New Delhi: “Being the Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” On the last day of the Zee Jaipur Literature festival, this statement from Lt. Gen. (Retired) Zameer Uddin Shah left me dumbfounded. Here was a man who had served in the Indian Army for 40 years and participated in almost every military action undertaken from 1968 to 2008. General Shah, who was the Vice Chancellor of AMU post-retirement from the Army between 2012 and 2017, said “The 35000 rebellious students were almost always upto some mischief. Our universities are infected with indiscipline, not just from the students but also from the teachers. I found work on civvie (sic) street more difficult that the army.”
Being a military man, Lt Gen Shah believes that military service should be made compulsory in India. “I’m a firm believer in universal military service to discipline the nation. At least the IAS, IPS and IFS officers should serve a year or two in the armed forces to understand the ethos.”
In Jaipur to promote his memoirs, The Sarkari Mussalman, Lt Gen Shah said, “I was accused of being the ‘Sarkari Musalman’ because I abided by the rules.I have been castigated by members of my own community.” The book has attracted controversy as in it General Shah disagrees with the findings of the SIT on the Gujarat riots. Lt Gen Shah, then a divisional commander in Rajasthan, and his unit were flown in to Ahmedabad in 2002 to curb the post Godhra riots.
Shah, who retired from the Indian Army in 2008 as the Deputy Chief of Staff, hopes that the country can learn from the Armed forces where religion is treated as a private matter. “I never got an inkling of communal feeling in the army. What to talk of bias? I always faced affirmative action. I was a muslim officer in a Rajput regiment where I presided over mandir ceremonies. A Muslim officer faces no discrimination in the Indian army.”
Lt. General Shah’s younger brother, the actor Naseeruddin Shah, recently courted controversy when he said he fears for his children in a country where the life of a cow is more important than the life of a policeman. Zameer Uddin said dissidence should not be seen as disloyalty. “Unfortunately you say something that troubles a local politician and he will use you as a punching bag. Dissidence is something a democracy must accept. There is nothing disloyal at all about what my brother says.”