Urdu is my mother tongue, says new MANUU chancellor

Updated 13 January 2015
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Urdu is my mother tongue, says new MANUU chancellor

A close Muslim aide of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was named recently as the new chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), said his top priority is to prepare students at the Hyderabad-based institution for the needs of the country’s industries.
Fifty-two-year-old Zafar Sareshwala, who is widely criticized for having broken ranks with the community by endorsing and backing Modi, said it is important for students who graduate from MANUU to be employable.
The Indian Muslim community’s opposition to Modi stems from his failure to stop the massacre of Muslims in the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Modi was then the chief minister of the state. No Indian court has so far found Modi to be complicit in the crimes.
“I belong to industry and since my appointment was announced last week several big businesses have promised help,” Sareshwala told Arab News from New Delhi where he runs a successful business. “It is my wish and aim to see that MANUU graduates are recruited by big businesses from the campus itself. For that to happen we will have to improve the standard of teaching and research at the university.”
Sareshwala said that top universities around the world are recognized for their critical research. He said he wants to find out how many papers its students have published. “I am taking charge on Jan. 14 (Wednesday) and I will determine firsthand what state the university is in,” he said.
He said Vice Chancellor Mohammad Miyan already visited him in New Delhi. “The university was established 16 years ago. I will find out if it has succeeded in doing what it was established for. If not, why not? And then what we can do now to get it back on course,” he said. “My task is to restore the lost glory of Urdu.”
He said the news of his appointment came as a pleasant surprise. “I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would one day get this position. As a firm believer, I took it as a blessing from Allah. I thought more than capability, one needs acceptability. When we accept something from Allah, then Allah helps us to measure up to the job. I have accepted this with good intention. I am confident Allah will help me overcome any shortcomings on my part.”
Dismissing criticism from his opponents that he does not know Urdu, Sareshwala said: “Urdu is my mother tongue. Not only do I speak Urdu, but I also write in Urdu. I am equally comfortable in Urdu and English.”
He said every member of his family speaks and writes Urdu. “My ‘khaandan’ (clan) has served the cause of Urdu in Gujarat for a long, long time. In 1972, when Urdu was facing an existential crisis in Gujarat, my late father and my paternal uncle established a board in Ahmedabad to promote Urdu. Since that time, the board organized a grand international mushaira focusing on national integration,” he said.
Recalling his childhood, he said he and his siblings had the good fortune of playing in the presence of legendary Urdu stalwarts like Majrooh Sultanpuri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Ali Sardar Jafri and Jagan Nath Azad. “We grew up in their presence. Urdu runs in our blood. We would read ‘Shama’ magazine and the womenfolk in our house grew up reading ‘Rizwan’ and ‘Bano’ magazines. These Quixotic critics know nothing about us,” he said.

Reiterating his family’s contribution in the field of education, Sareshwala said his father’s grandfather established the Ahmedabad Educational Society in 1910. “My father was a metallurgist from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) and he had his entire education in Urdu. Physics, chemistry, geometry and calculus, he read all those subjects in Urdu. I am also aware of the Urdu terminology for chemistry and physics. Few Muslims can claim that today,” he said.
He said Modi himself is also a big fan of Urdu. “When we launched his website in Urdu last year, he asked famous Bollywood playwright and scriptwriter Salim Khan to handle it,” he said. “At the time of the launch, Modi addressed Salim Khan and said, ‘It is rather unfortunate that such a sweet language as Urdu has been victimized by associating it with one community. I am very sorry that I cannot read or write Urdu but I love listening to Urdu,’” said Sareshwala.
According to him, Modi acknowledges that there has been immense injustice against the Muslim community. “Modi would say Muslims never got the opportunity to prove their mettle and their worth. They were never given a chance. Nobody has harnessed the potential of the Muslim community. Modi says educate them and promote them. His mantra is: ‘If this community gets educated, then it will get ahead in the race for excellence.’”
He said he is faced with two kinds of opponents. “Some are ignorant and they really don’t know anything about me. They will know me with time. The others are obstinate. They know me but still indulge in character assassination and loose talk. They derive political mileage out of abusing me. If by attacking me their political chances are brightened, then I wish them well. Congratulations. I am not bothered. I will continue to work for the good of the community,” he said.
On his communications with Modi and the charges of sycophancy, he said: “I was always saying that Modi would become the next prime minister and that the community should open channels of communication with him. Muslims cannot remain in political isolation. Talk to him, explain your problem to him. That is what I was saying to everyone in the run-up to the elections and even before that. Can you call this sycophancy?”
He said Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat and if there was some issue about the state, he should have been approached. “We had to talk to the Gujarat chief minister.

India’s federal structure is such that when it comes to a state you have to talk to the state’s chief and not the prime minister.

This is what I did. You call this sycophancy?”
Sareshwala, who is a mechanical engineer and father of three, said his clan has been into business for the past three generations. “My family lost everything in 1947. Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah would conduct his meetings in our place in the pre-partition days. If my grandfather had gone to Pakistan, he would have been a minister. They did everything for Pakistan. But then when Pakistan was formed, my forefathers were convinced that India was the right place for them. So they stayed back,” he said.
In an interesting recollection, Sareshwala said the most donations that Jinnah would get was from Gujarat Muslims, specifically from Ahmedabad. “We paid the price for that. In the 1969 riots, we suffered. In 1992 we suffered, and again in 2002. To fall and to rise is in our blood. Whatever I do, I do with conviction, not out of sycophancy. When Modi was not there, we were into business and even now are into business. We did not beg at the doors of a mosque,” he said in response to the vitriol from his critics. “I am not a politician.”


Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

Updated 14 November 2018
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Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

  • An official named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep
  • Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year

SINGAPORE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte skipped several meetings at an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore on Wednesday, prompting the 73-year-old’s office to issue a statement scotching speculation that it was due to ill health.
“We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and wellbeing which have been the subject of speculation,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“The president’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”
Panelo named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep, and said he would also skip a gala dinner with the leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations, US Vice President Mike Pence and several others.
Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year, and he has said openly that he is tired and would like to step down before the end of his term ends in 2022.
Last month Duterte’s office revealed that he had undergone a colonoscopy and he told reporters that a biopsy had shown he did not have cancer.
The constitution provides for the public to be told of the state of health of an incumbent president, if serious.
If a sitting president dies, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the vice president succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.
Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, was elected separately in 2016. Speculation about Duterte’s health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarized political climate.
Duterte has cited Robredo’s “incompetence” as a reason for his inability to quit as president.
Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year.
Panelo said it was “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” of Duterte’s absences, noting that he had attended ASEAN meetings with leaders from China, Japan and Russia.
“Last night, the president worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30a.m.”
Duterte is known for having an unorthodox working schedule that typically starts mid-afternoon and includes cabinet meetings that can go on beyond midnight.