At Tedx Hyderabad 2017, he was introduced as the Academic Soldier, and the label fits Lt. General Zameer Uddin Shah like a glove.
Born on 15 August 1948 in Bahraich District of Uttar Pradesh, India, he spent the first five years in the company of his grandfather, from whom he learnt horse riding.
He studied in a Madarsa where they wrote on flat wooden boards that had a thin layer of limestone/ Multani mitti with bamboo pens.
“Writing on the takhti teaches you to avoid making mistakes and excellent penmanship,” he reminisces.
The young Zameer Uddin was soon moved to St. Joseph’s college, Nainital, as his father believed that ‘a good education made for a good foundation’.
“The dedication of the Irish brothers who ran the school towards the students was remarkable, and I carry the influence till date,” he says.
Life as a soldier
Coming from a family with a 200-year history of serving in the defence forces, he joined the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla, Pune. Following this, he trained in the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun and was commissioned on 9 June 1968 into 185 Light Regiment (Camel Pack).
“I was a horseman, and the Army in all its wisdom commissioned me to a camel regiment,” he jests. “It took us nine days to get from Bikaner to Jaisalmer. It worked out well as it gave us the time to learn the terrain,” he adds.
He was part of the 1971 operations at Longewala (Jaisalmer Sector). He later went on to command 170 Field Regiment where subsequently, his son also held a commission, thus keeping the family tradition going.
Over a career spanning 40 years, Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah served in many parts of the country including Ladakh and the North Eastern states.
He was sent on a diplomatic assignment as Defence Attache in Saudi Arabia from 1994-1997. “My knowledge of Arabic came in handy there. When you know the language, things become a little simpler,” he explains.
He held the position of Deputy Chief of Army Staff (P&S) and was responsible for modernisation of the Army plus the management and control of the Army budget.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t do much here. The Defence scientists need to wake up to the fact that delivering on time is of utmost importance. Thankfully, things are looking up now,” he feels.
In June 2009, Lt. Gen. Shah was elevated to the Armed Forces Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi. This appointment is on par with that of a High Court Judge.
“Throughout my time in the Army, I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who supported and elevated me. I have had the fortune to serve under some fine leaders including Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. In the Army, we are all one irrespective of religion, caste and class, and that, is our biggest strength,” he adds.
He resigned from the Armed Forces Tribunal to assume the appointment of Vice-Chancellor Aligarh Muslim University.
He is a recipient of the highest peacetime award of Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM), Sena Meda and Vishist Seva Medal (VSM).
Life as an academic
Lt. General Zameer Uddin Shah is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Higher Command Course at Army War College and National Defence College and holds a Master Degree in Defence Studies and Management from Madras University (1980) and M Phil from Indore University (1993).
“At the age of 24, I was sent as an instructor to the Officer’s Training Academy, Chennai to help train college students to earn a commission in the Army. Several students were older than me. But the Army trains you to be instructors. You keep upgrading, and you keep growing,” he says.
When he was approached by the Aligarh Muslim University delegates, he stood for the election and was elected by the AMU court. Initially, he faced some resistance from a section of students and teachers. There were rampant discipline issues. A student union President was rusticated, and that set things rolling.
“I always said, your freedom ends where my nose begins. Discipline is of utmost importance, and anti-national activities are intolerable,” he says.
During his time in AMU, he observed the gap between children who came from Madarsas. They created bridge courses where the children were taught English, computers and more. The success rate of this bridge course has been 100% with the children, both boys and girls going on to take competitive exams, law courses etc. Moreover, it was seen that these children became the agents of change.
“Theology is important, but it is also important to move along with modern times,” he believes.
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018 has picked the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as India’s best.
The Lt. Gen. stepped down as the Vice Chancellor of AMU in May 2017. He plans to work as an academic, bringing education to children, especially in Muslim dominated areas. The academic soldier will continue to do what he does best.
He believes that the only way to a happier existence is by surrounding oneself with positive people. “Cut out the negative vibes, counsel when you can, distance when you cannot,” he concludes.
To read more about Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah, see: http://www.zoomshah.in