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Checkmate on Clio

Editorial |

Having detoxified historical texts during the two spells of NDA-I and II (continuing), the Indian Council of Historical Research, reconstituted two years back in accord with the lights of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has now turned the fiscal screw on the Left-liberal academic establishment. Irfan Habib, the distinguished Mughal historian of the Aligarh school, definitely deserved better. As the former Chairman of ICHR (from September 1986 to July 1990), his request to the council for assistance to conduct the annual seminar of the Aligarh Historians’ Society (AHS) on the country’s regional history has been turned down and rather peremptorily. Does ICHR have an issue with the topic ~ “India and its Parts ~ Past and Present” ? Is it anxious to deny an opportunity to an ideologically different school of historians from articulating its perceptions, pre-eminently Romila Thapar, Rajan Gurukkal, BP Sahu and Gopinath Ravindran ? Answers to these queries may not be available quite yet. The AHS has been seeking funds since 2000, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was at the helm, but never has its request been turned down by a purportedly academic entity as the ICHR. Without specifying the criteria for assistance, the ICHR has proffered a quirky, even specious, reason for turning down Prof Habib’s application for fiscal grants to conduct an academic exercise. Reports suggest that the council “did not find ther proposal adequate in terms of the criteria for financial assistance”. Clearly, the ICHR, once reputed for its research projects and monographs, is loath to rock the saffronite boat. While interpretation of a social science discipline is open to subjective reflection, there ought to be no impediment to the reconstruction of facts. The ICHR is yet to respond to Prof Habib’s contention that “regional history is one of the areas to which ICHR is, by its rules, supposed to give special attention. Our seminar was essentially about regional history”. The eminent historian’s argument does call for reflection as the canvas of Indian history ~ ancient, medieval, modern, and post-colonial ~ gets broader and broader. Having said that, it needs to be underlined that detoxification of history has been a two-way process ever since the Babari Masjid came under the pick-axe on 6 December 1992. When in power, both the Congress and the BJP have been guilty of rewriting historical texts to mirror their respective perceptions. Hence the varying emphasis on events, phases, and personalities. Hence also the unfortunate charge of “manufactured history”, one that has been articulated by secular historians in successive sessions of the history congress over the past 25 years. In the net, the saffronite lobby’s politically-driven interference in the pursuit of academic discipline leaves EH Carr’s famous query ~ “What is History?” ~ unanswered. History has been checkmated.