From the echo chambers of the Jadavpur University convocation to the 80th edition of the Indian History Congress at Kannur University in Kerala, it is decidedly distressing to reflect that the citizenship protests, however justiciable and now almost endemic, should convulse the august academic high table.
While the West Bengal Governor was barred from entering the JU campus as Chancellor on convocation day, the Kerala Governor, Mr Arif Mohammad Khan, was booed so severely that he had to wind up his address, claiming that his freedom of speech was being denied. Arguably it was, judging by last Saturday’s ugly developments. It is unfortunate that academic gatherings have coincided with the citizenship upheaval.
And the least that can be said about the kerfuffle is that the convocation and the highminded IHC deserved to have been insulated from the citizenship controversy. As it turned out, neither the aggrieved ~ the two Governors ~ nor the protesters were anxious to ensure such insulation. The ugly scenes at the Kannur IHC were a faint echo of the rumbustous scenes that had marked the IHC 30 years ago, indeed at the peak of the Babari Masjid- Ram Mandir dispute and barely a year before the masjid came under the pick-axe of kar sevaks. It was intrinsically a dispute over “manufactured history”, to summon the words of a noted historian of the profoundly secular, if not pro-Left, school.
The inaugural session of the IHC could scarcely have been more chaotic; Mr Khan was compelled to curtail his speech and step off the dais as he was supportive of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. Verily has the legislation come to bear on the standing of two Governors in the span of a week. The IHC is being held at a crucial juncture of the narrative. Appropriately enough, it ought to have been riveted ~ from Day One ~ to erudite papers on the citizenship issue and in the historical context, notably the fallout of Partition.
Erudition and politicisation of a terribly emotive issue are two radically different quantities. Both have been rather thin on the ground over the past few weeks. We do not know if the IHC resolution will focus on Partition and citizenship, which is a profoundly historical issue. Yet we do know that 72 years after Independence, it is the identity of the Indian that is now open to question…in the perception of the ruling political class. And this identity has come to bear on the erudite IHC.
Particularly unseemly was the pandemonium that marked the inaugural with the distinguished historian and president of the current IHC, Irfan Habib (Aligarh school) getting up from his chair on the stage to remark, “The Governor may talk about Godse but not Maulana Azad.” That punctuated the Governor’s presentation with a full stop. Mr Khan had his dander up, provoking the protesters to debunk the constitutional head for what they called his “unwarranted political remarks”. It needs to be underlined that the Indian History Congress ought not to be the venue of an ideological spat.