Monday, July 28, 2014

ICHR controversy and undermining history


Mukul Kanitkar25 Jul 2014


The overwhelming mandate of the 2014 general election was indeed a mandate for national self assertion. For almost four decades now, Bharat has been on the verge of taking a leap towards a glorious future, a destiny awaited for long. But the potential never unfolded. The largest democracy remained a land of untapped potential. One of the prime factors in this repeated underachievement in all the fields was lack of national identity. No people  in the whole world are as confused as a nation as Bharat is. The unimaginable and even unexpected political support Modi could garner in these elections is the result of national urge of the people to get out of this confusion and assert themselves as a strong nation. With the first few steps the Modi Government has moved decisively in the direction of addressing this concern. Decisions like speaking in Hindi with foreign delegates are indicators of the political will. After all it is not mere popular grandstanding but a proper shift in the political stand that produces results. Creation of national will is a task rooted more in the intent than in the impact.

How people collectively view their past is an important ingredient of national identity. The common ancestral lineage provides the emotional integration much needed to compose apparently diverse pearls of customs, traditions and even overtly contradictory religious practices into a fascinating necklace adorning the proud bosom of India. Thus, proper presentation of history becomes an important factor in nation-building. When the country became independent, it was expected to have done this presentation of history from Bharatiya perspective. The British had presented history from their own perspective and with their own imperial goals in mind. They proved what Voltaire wrote in 1757 right – "History is nothing but a pack of tricks we play on the dead." Sadly, even after independence, those who governed followed the same agenda. As in the case of all other systems, the British tradition of Eurocentric academia continued. The whole world was looked at through the European prism. As was aptly put by the great scholar Dr DS Kothari, chairman of Kothari commission — "The centre of gravity of all the intellectual activity in India rests in Europe, this needs to be firmly re-established in India as early as possible"

The newly appointed chairman of ICHR Dr Y Sudarshan Rao was criticised for precisely saying the same. He stated in the Chairman's Diary:

"India has the great heritage of civil intellectual and spiritual achievements from times immemorial having no parallel in the world. In the 60 years of our independence, we are yet to evolve a methodology to study our remote past with an Indian perspective."

But this was unacceptable to the Marxist lobby which has dominated History-writing in modern India. These are the people who are responsible for the national intellectual confusion developed into the chronic identity crisis Bharat faces today. The ICHR was founded in 1972 with the declared objective of allowing different perspectives of history-writing to flourish. The objectives enlisted in the memorandum of association of ICHR are as follows:

» "to bring historians together and provide a forum for exchange of views between them;

» to give a national direction to an objective and scientific writing of history and to have rational presentation and interpretation of history;

» to promote, accelerate and coordinate research in history with special emphasis on areas which have not received adequate attention so far;

» to promote and coordinated a balanced distribution of research effort over different areas;

» to elicit support and recognition for historical research from all concerned and ensure the necessary dissemination and use of results."

Where is Dr Rao diverting from these objectives when he writes:

"I feel, in the first two decades, considerable work has been done in ancient and medieval areas and in the recent years the research in modern and regional history have come up in large scale. Mostly, I think, the researches directly sponsored and conducted by the ICHR are mostly guided by the modern schools of historiography of the West. Though much work has been done in these areas, we have to pay enough attention to the ancient and medieval India and particularly to its remote past."

He is just referring to the third objective enlisted above — to promote, accelerate and coordinate research in history with special emphasis on areas which have not received adequate attention so far.

The second objective of ICHR refers to the question of National identity and calls for giving a national perspective to history writing. The attributes used are objective and scientific to the work of writing history. These have been grossly misinterpreted by the eminent historians with vested ideological interests. Both the adjectives refer to methodology of history-writing. This has been blatantly ignored by those who have headed ICHR so far. Archeological findings were not allowed to be published when they did not suit the theories propagated by the Marxist school. The site at Kalibangan is one such example. The comprehensive report of excavations at this site was published in its entirety in 2003 by the Archaeological Survey of India, 34 years after the completion of excavations. The findings have yet to find place in the curricula as they challenge many existing theories. Many such examples can be given.

Oral traditions are considered to be one of the most trusted primary sources of history of a people. But in Bharat, even documented literature has been neglected as myth without any scientific enquiry. The present ICHR chairman writes in his diary:

"We have yet to understand the nuances of ancient knowledge and the methods and techniques which our ancients employed to bring the essence of knowledge to the door steps of each household. Take the examples of Puranas of different kinds which were popularised through various performing arts and folklore. We should remember on this occasion, the great services rendered by Sage Vyasa who popularised the Puranas through his disciple Sage Suta at Naimisharanya, UP. The modern research findings are confined only to the libraries and research centres and unfortunately, the 'new knowledge' is out of reach of common man. The ICHR has to play a catalyst role in taking to people their history."

He is imploring the historians to objectively examine the traditional sources without prejudice or bias. He promises to have such an objective attitude in the functioning of the council:

"The ICHR will encourage all types of studies on various historical problems without any bias and discrimination so as to enrich our understanding of Indian history in its multi-faceted grandeur."

Instead of appreciating such a scientific approach, the detractors are crying wolf without giving him time to prove himself. The tone and lack of substance of the criticism creates a doubt as to the intentions of those who have tried to create controversy out of nothing.

As the well known American political analyst Samuel Huntington describes in his book 'Who are we? The challenge to America's national identity' the whole world is going through this phase of finding the national identity. Those nations which are able to resolve these identity issues intellectually and democratically will lead the world in the next phase of global interactions both economic and diplomatic. A nation's self view determines its foreign policy, its priorities and preferences on the world stage. The Modi government has to evolve a long term perspective for the national policies. Bharat's self view is going to play an important role in this exercise. Hence the appointment of the chairman of ICHR is a significant indicator of the executive intent. Arnold J Toynbee, in an NBC television broadcast on April 17, 1955 stated:

"History not used is nothing, for all intellectual life is action, like practical life, and if you don't use the stuff well, it might as well be dead."

The time is ripe and national mood is favourable for the 'Objective and Scientific' use of Bharat's glorious past to give it a well-deserved impetus. One hopes this is done at bullet train speed rather than the meter gauge approach of the past Governments.


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