Fascist Attack on History and Secular Historians in India
1. An appeal to all concerned
2. Reports, Documents, Interviews
of Fascism is looming large over the practice of history writing in
India. The consequences of taking over of all the institutions of research
and academic policy-making by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government
and filling them with RSS-linked nominees are now coming into play.
It is indicative of the strength and excellence of secular historiography
in India that it is now being seen as necessary by the Sangh Pariver
(RSS linked organisations) to embark on a massive drive of crude suppression
of academic freedom of the historian before it begins its long-cherished
project of ‘re-writing’ India’s past.
policy on education has involved a major doctoring of school texts in
the states ruled by the BJP, and there has also been a systematic and
continuous attack on secular historiography, on democratic cultural
expression and on minorities. It also needs to be stressed that these
developments need to be opposed by all democratic people all over the
world in whatever ways possible. International public opinion would
certainly carry some weight. It would be nice if the matter could also
be taken up at the level of different academic associations (a Historical
Association, a Sociological Association, etc., and also a body concerned
with south Asian or Asian studies), and they could perhaps express their
concern to the Indian government.
face of a lot of lies being propagated by the BJP Government and its
nominees who now control the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR),
and because not all the information is available to those who feel deeply
concerned about the manner in which two volumes edited by Prof. Sumit
Sarkar and Professor Panikkar dealing with the freedom movement have
been arbitrarily and without warning withdrawn from the Press by the
ICHR, we are sending you some additional material--some press clippings
from various newspapers, reports of protests against this condemnable
act, statements of the people concerned and other historians’ statements
all of which give some details that you may find useful in further formulating
your opinion and convincing others. It also needs to be stressed that
this is not an isolated act.
like you to look at our websites AKHBAR
and SOUTH ASIA DOCUMENTS on some of
the material on these and related developments.
the Withdrawal of the Towards Freedom Volumes by the ICHR
Statement to the press by Professor Irfan Habib (Former Chairman,
withdrawal of the Towards Freedom volumes by the Indian Council
of Historical Research (ICHR) is a major attack on the principle of
academic freedom and the cause of scientific history.
been acquainted with the history of the project as a member of the Council
of the ICHR from 1972 to 1978 and as Chairman of the ICHR from 1986
to 1993, I would like to give some particulars which are relevant to
the debate on the present decision.
the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was established in
1972, the Government of India decided to entrust to it (in collaboration
with the National Archives) a project to publish documents belonging
to the period 1937-47, so as to illumine the way in which the freedom
of our country was obtained. Many wished that there should be a reply
from the Indian side to the Transfer of Power volumes officially
published from London, which were considered as one-sided and tendentious.
The ICHR, however, decided that the effort should be to publish documents
not merely to present an alternative "official" view, but
to throw light on all aspects of the National Movement, embracing both
apex and popular politics. It was to be as objective a collection as
possible. Thus documents were to be collected from the National Archives
(NAI), on which a large NAI team worked, and from other public
and private sources (including State Archives), on which the ICHR team
worked. An enormous mass of material was collected, but the work of
analysis and editing proceeded rather slowly. In 1985 a volume appeared,
edited by Dr. P.N. Chopra, covering the year 1937.
I took over as Chairman, ICHR, in the autumn of 1986, I found that the
work was proceeding very slowly. There was also widespread criticism
of the published volume as not having done justice to the rich documentation.
However, there was no question of withdrawing it: and the statement
to this effect attributed to the present Chairman of ICHR, Mr. BR Grover,
is entirely baseless. When the volume did not sell well, and the then
distributor reported this fact (in 1991, if I remember right), the distributor
was changed, and the stock transferred to another firm of distributors
in the hope that better results might be forthcoming. This offers absolutely
no analogy to the present case.
needs of the project made it necessary for the volumes to be prepared
simultaneously, and accordingly steps in this direction were taken in
1989-90. It was very gratifying that, with Professor S. Gopal as the
General Editor, eminent historians agreed to edit individual volumes.
The entire project was entrusted to the Editorial Committee, and the
volume editors Professors Bipan Chandra, Ravinder Kumar, Mushirul Hasan,
Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, along with the late Professor Partha
Sarathi Gupta, proceeded to scrutinise the huge pile of documents, classifying
and selecting them. Dr Basudev Chatterji subsequently joined the team
as Coordinating Editor; he also undertook the task of editing one of
my term as Chairman, ICHR, ended early in 1993, 1 was very happy when
in 1997 Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta's three volumes were published,
covering the years 1943-44. These constitute a monumental testimony
to his industry and vision. It is especially unfortunate that a Deputy
Director of the ICHR should raise the issues of some inoffensive misprints
(the responsibility of the ICHR/publisher not of the editor), to throw
mud on this work. Some of his remarks like Gandhiji being merely relegated
to footnotes or there being no list of contents, have been proved to
he totally false.
some years, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, now the HRD Minister, and Mr. Arun
Shourie, one of the Sangh Parivar's chief propagandists (now rewarded
for his pains with a seat in the Union Ministry) had been talking themselves
hoarse on the expenditure and the long time taken by the Towards
Freedom Project, as if this was due to some lapse by the so-called
"Left" historians. It is of some interest to consider when
the main expenditure was incurred. This was precisely when the present
"saffron" Chairman of the ICHR, Mr B.R. Grover, a luminary
of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad team on the Babri Masjid, was in office
.is "Director (Academic)” of the ICHR (from 1974 to 1985). The
Government of India's expenditure on the Project ceased on 31.3.1992,
and so the editors who began their work in 1990 can hardly be held responsible
for the alleged malexpenditure that took place in Mr. Grover's time.
But, instead of being arraigned for the fault of excessive expenditure
on the project, Mr. Grover (who is not a Professor, nor holder
of a Ph.D. degree, nor author of any book, nor "Founder Director"
of ICHR, as claimed by him) has been rewarded by being appointed Chairman.
ICHR. Now he heads a Council already saffronised wholesale, and
has been given the task of imposing the RSS-VHP agenda on it. Clearly,
then, the concern with the large expenditure on the Towards Freedom
Project is a purely manufactured one in order to divert public attention.
for delay, if the task of editing was to be well performed, it could
not be hastened in a mindless fashion. One of the editors has rightly
pointed out that he had to scan over 100,000 documents to make his selection.
The editors have received no remuneration for the task done (an honorarium
ofRs.25,000 was promised after publication of each set of volumes).
Yet they have carried out the work with dedication, with one set printed
and three more sets sent to press. If after reaching this stage the
volumes are to be withdrawn, who then is causing the delay?
withdrawal is being justified on petty technical grounds--all proving
to be false. Mr. Grover told the press that the volumes had been sent
to the publishers (Oxford University Press) without them being shown
to his predecessor. Professor S. Settar. The production of Professor
Settar's own Foreword to one of the volumes has given a lie to this
allegation, wherein he" refers to his gratification at having sent
the other volumes to the press as well.
volumes are being withdrawn supposedly to be screened. Screened by whom?
Of Mr. Grover's own modest qualifications (even in the field of Mughal
Indian history), I have already written. He has appointed a committee
of "experts", of whom, after resignations took care of at
least two, there remains none who is a historian of the National Movement
or even a historian. How these persons can have the presumption to censor
the work of historians of the stature of Professors S. Gopal, Sumit
Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, defies imagination. Only the Nazis in Germany
over sixty years ago could have been capable of such presumption.
whole matter is clear. Being in power for the moment, the RSS and the
BJP are in a hurry to introduce as much of their ideology into the academic
world as they can. The Towards Freedom volumes are crucial for
them. Any honest presentation of documents would show the RSS, Hindu
Mahasabha and their other 'family members' for what they were-- loyal
servants of the British raj, and poison-spewers against Gandhiji and
all genuine nationalists. They are therefore determined to prevent an
impartial publication of documents, and are out to project those who
tried to undermine the National Movement as true freedom fighters. From
the inscriptions they have been putting on statutes, of non-entities,
their false history is now ready to leap into the publications of the
NCERT, ICSSR, and other official bodies, but. above all, of the 1CHR.
a gross doctoring of history and its diffusion needs to be prevented.
One does not have in mind only the honour of the National Movement,
or the cause of academic freedom. The battle is for the nation's mind,
and that concerns the future of us all.
97, Radbakrishnan Salai,
Mylapore, Madras-600 004.
Statement by Professor S. Gopal, General Editor,
ICHR's decision to withdraw the volumes of ‘Towards Freedom’
from newspaper reports that the Indian Council of Historical Research
has withdrawn the volumes of Towards Freedom edited by Professor K.N.
Panikkar and Professor Sumit Sarkar. These volumes were submitted to
me by the editors and after incorporating the changes suggested by me
were forwarded to the Oxford University Press by the Chairman of the
1CHR. It is, therefore, surprising that the ICHR has accused my colleagues
of forwarding the typescripts to OUP without the knowledge of the Council.
decision of the ICHR to withdraw the volumes and subject them to a review
without consulting the General Editor and the volume editors is a violation
of the terms under which the project was conceived and executed. It
also amounts to an infringement of the academic rights and freedom of
the authors who were invited by the ICHR to undertake this work. Apart
from the personal discourtesy, it is disturbing and unethical that a
purely academic exercise should involve intervention by officials.
General Editor ICHR Project, Towards Freedom
Freedom: the larger Sangh design
by Prof. KN Panikkar
in The Hindustal Times, February 20, 2000
again the project, Towards Freedom, sponsored jointly by the
Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) and the National Archives
of India, is in the news. This time for reasons stranger than fiction.
typescripts of two volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and myself,
which were being processed by the Oxford University Press (OUP) for
publication, have been withdrawn by the Council for 'perusal' without
assigning any reason. ICHR has not observed the minimum propriety of
informing the authors about this decision. But for the professional
commitment of OUP, the authors would have remained ignorant.
to the public outcry against this unprecedented move, ICHR has alleged
that the typescripts were directly given to OUP without its knowledge
which, to say the least, is far from the truth. My typescript and the
floppy were handed over in 1995 to the then chairman, and a copy to
the general editor of the series. ICHR has duly acknowledged the receipt
of the typescript, and a former chairman is on record that he has forwarded
the. typescript to OUP. The present chairman is either deliberately
concealing it or is ignorant of what happened in the project before
he took over.
withdrawal is credited to the concern of ICHR and indeed of the human
resource development ministry to ensure the academic quality of the
publications of the Council. The intention is indeed noble and laudable,
though not the practice as evident from the constitution of the committee
that is to conduct a review of “the qualitative and quantitative progress”
(whatever that means) made by ichr, an autonomous body of professional
historians, and various projects undertaken by it.
committee consists of two retired bureaucrats and a former archaeologist-administrator!
One of them resigned after the first meeting, reportedly in disgust,
and was replaced by, a historian specialising in ancient Indian history.
The volumes of Towards Freedom have been recalled from the press
for the review of this committee.
are two basic objections to subjecting the volumes to the review of
this committee. However eminent the members of this committee are, they
are not professionally competent to review a work of documentary history.
I am surprised that unlike the member who resigned, the, others agreed
to sit in judgment over a discipline about which they have no knowledge.
surprisingly, the human resource development minister, who had once
served in a university, violated all academic norms in constituting
this committee. Surely, a bunch of bureaucrats will not be asked to
review a project on nuclear science. Or is it that commitment to Hindutva
will override all other considerations under the new dispensation? But
then, the ministry's review committees are generally meant to look into
administrative and not professional matters of institutions under its
care. That is a distinction both the ministry and ICHR seem to overlook.
second objection is related to the academic freedom and rights of the
editors of these volumes. When they were entrusted with this work in
1989--they had no connection with this project before that --it was
clearly understood that they were answerable onlyto the General Editor,
Professor S. Gopal, and that his decision in matters of content and
form would be final. No other individual or committee was supposed to
exercise any control. It was under this condition that the editors had
agreed to undertake this work.
volumes were submitted to the scrutiny of the general editor who had
suggested some modifications, which were carried out. In the event,
the present attempt of ICHR to impose a committee external to the discipline
of history is an infringement of the academic rights and freedom of
the editors, and alters the terms under which the project was conceived
peer review is never unacceptable to scholars. I, for one, would welcome
it, but not a review as envisioned by the ministry. By conceding the
demand of the ministry, ICHR has compromised its autonomy, I suspect,
for political reasons. It is a pity that ICHR is now manned by people
who are insensitive to the academic implications of the loss of autonomy.
volumes now being recalled are the result of several years of labour.
The present editors started working on them in 1989, and collected documents
from almost all archival repositories in India. They are culled from
government records, institutional papers, private correspondence and
documents in the volume I have edited are selected from about 150,000
pages collected from these sources. It has taken me about six years
to complete the work. While it was under preparation, there were several
ill-informed and perhaps motivated criticisms, both about the delay
and the money expended on the project. It is paradoxical, therefore,
that attempts are now being made to stall the publication.
the editor's remuneration is limited to Rs25,000 payable only after
completion of the work. As such, .contrary to the impression sought
to be created by some ideologues of the Sangh Parivar, like other editors,
I have also not received any money from ICHR.
wonders why the volumes have been withdrawn. One possible reason is.
the fear about their contents, which is reflected in the statements
of both the chairman of ICHR and the general secretary of the BJP. There
is a general suspicion in the Hindutva camp that these volumes, being
documentary histories, might| contain incontroveftible evidence about
the collaboration of Hindu communal forces with colonialism. And
that is likely to damage forever the possible projectfon of the RSS
leaders as freedom fighters. Discrediting the authors of these vol umes
and preventing their publication is rooted in this political logic.
The former was attempted by an ideologe of Hindutva sometime back, and
the chairman of ICHR is now| engaged in the latter.
is happening to 'Towards Freedom is not an isolated instance.
It is part of a larger design of the Sangh Parivar to transform India
into a Hindu Nation. The disruption of the shooting of Water, the blackening
of the face of a schoolteacher in Goa, and the intimidation
of the citizens in, Lucknow are unmistakable forebodings of fast-emerging
fascist conditions in our country. The withdrawal of these volumes has
to be located in this larger context.
by KN Panikkar to OUP
Dear Mr. Advani,
Thank you for your letter of 9 Feb. and a copy of the communication
from the ICHR withholding the publication of Towards Freedom
volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and myself. I am quite surprised
by this rather unexpected decision of the ICHR, which has not been conveyed
to me so far.
From the ICHR letter it appears that the reason for withdrawing the
typescripts is to enable the Council/ Review committee to ‘peruse’ them.
My typescript has remained with the Council for five years, as it was
handed over to the ICHR officials in 1995. It was then ‘perused’ by
the General Editor, Prof. S. Gopal, who had suggested some modifications,
which were carried out. According to the terms initially offered by
the ICHR there is no provision for review by any person or committee
other than the General Editor. The present attempt to submit the typescript
to a fresh review is therefore uncalled for and an infringement of the
terms under which I had undertaken this work. In the light of the above
I suggest the following:
OUP may consult Prof. Gopal before returning the typescript to the ICHR
ICHR may be asked to spell out the reasons for withholding publication.
I do not
know the terms of the agreement between the OUP and the ICHR. But I
wonder whether the ICHR can unilaterally withhold publication without
consulting the authors, as it some way impinges upon the academic freedom
of the authors. I shall be thankful for informing me about further developments
in the matter.
Mr. Rukun Advani has left OUP since. In an intriguing, hopefully unrelated,
development, Rukun and his wife Anuradha Roy, both working for a long
time at OUP, were forced to leave OUP by the management on the plea that
spouses working in the same office is not acceptable to the concern. The
marriage is not new. They were married two years ago and have been together
Oxford University Press
1 Floor, YMCA Library Building,
Jaisingh Road, New Delhi-110001
Staement by historians
“Towards Freedom" project of the Indian Council of Historical Research
aimed at bringing together documents which shed light on various aspects
of the National Movement during the ten years preceding Freedom. It
took much time for the collection from various archival and private
sources to be made. Finally, historians, led by Professor S. Gopal as
General Editor, began the work of final editing as a result of which
the printing of the volumes has begun. Three of the volumes covering
the years 1943-44 edited by the Late Professor Parthasarathi Gupta and
three volumes covering the year 1938 edited by Basudev Chatterjee have
already been published by the Oxford University Press. All students
of the National Movement have been naturally looking forward to the
rich additions the volumes would make to the knowledge of such a crucial
period of our history.
is, therefore, extremely disturbing to read in the press that the ICHR,
which was duly "saffronized" in 1998 has decided to withdraw
two further volumes (edited by Professor Sumit Sarkar and Professor
K.N.Panikkar) that are already with the publishers, ostensibly for “
a review”. It is strange that while the gentlemen of the Sangh Parivar,
with the MHRD Minister, Shri Murli Manohar Joshi himself in the van,
had been crying hoarse over the delay in the project, they are now rushing
to stop its completion, through their nominees in the ICHR.
is clear that the withdrawal of these volumes is part of the plan to
spread a distorted and fictitious history of the National Movement,
in which those like the RSS luminaries who had never participated in
it, are to be given the pride of place. The action also amounts to the
grossest form of censorship, even if one forgets the presumption involved
in anyone coming forward to screen the work of such eminent historians
as those who are editing, the Towards Freedom volumes. The Sangh
Parivar has, of course, no thought that by this action of censorship
they are destroying the entire credibility of this project.
as historians and citizens we strongly deplore this action and call
upon all concerned, including Parliament, to join in the endeavour to
save the Towards Freedom Project and ensure the publication of all the
volumes expeditiously and without any censorship.
Ravinder Kumar, Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. R.S.Sharma, Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. Irfan Habib. Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. K.M. Shrimali
Prof. D.N. Jha
Prof. Suvira Jaiswal
Prof. Shirin Moosvi
Prof. Aniruddha Ray
Prof. Ramakrishna Chatterji
Prof. Iqtidar Alam Khan
Prof. Venkat Subramaniyan
Prof. A.P. Sharma
Prof. R.N. Shukla
Prof. H.C. Verma
Prof. S.R. Singh
Prof. H.C. Satyarthi
Prof. V. Ramakrishna
Prof. C.P.N. Sinha
by co researchers on Prof Parthasarathi's volume
(which also has been attacked by the BJP nominees in the ICHR)
published in The Hindustan Times
the ICHR criticised the work of Parthasarathi Gupta, one of the editors
of the 'Towards Freedom' project (covering the period 1943-44). We had
the privilige of working with Gupta on the project. We are deeply sadened
to see his work attacked on baseless and flimsy grounds by the ICHR.
Since he lives no more to defend his work we feel it is our moral duty
as his former co-workers to set the record straight. Gupta was a true
intellectual and carried out this editorial assignment in that spirit.
We were constantly reminded of the need for a balanced viewpoint in
the selection of documents, in the representation of different sections
of society which played a role during the independence movement in that
period. Regardless of his own ideological position, Mr Gupta stressed
the need to make the document comprehensive and bereft of any individual
bias. We know this because we had to work that much harder to satisfy
his desire for perfection.
Kantha Ramaswami, Arun Kumar and others
Minister Joshi misleading Parliament: former ICHR
Chief Prof. S. Settar
(Report by By V.Krishna Ananth in The Hindu, March 4, 2000)
March 3. The controversial decision by the Indian Council for Historical
Research (ICHR) to hold back the publication of two volumes of the `Towards
Freedom' project took a new turn today with Prof. S. Settar, former
Chairperson of the council, today maintaining that the Union Minister
for Human Resource Development, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, of “misleading
Parliament” while replying to questions on the issue today.
a telephonic conversation with The Hindu from Dharwad, Prof. Settar
said that a letter he had written to Prof. S. Gopal, that was cited
by Dr. Joshi in the Rajya Sabha today, “was only in order to convey
to him some views relating to some technical shortcomings, expressed
by others, in the volume already published (edited by Prof. Parthasarathy
Gupta) and to find out from him, as general editor, as to whether such
things as a subject index could be included in the forthcoming volumes”.
shock over the way in which Dr. Joshi sought to justify the ICHR's decision
to put the two volumes on hold, Prof. Settar - citing the correspondence
between him and Prof. Gopal - said, “At no stage did I have any doubt
over the quality of the work by various scholars under Prof. S. Gopal's
Minister's statement in Parliament has taken out of context the letter
I had written in my capacity as Chairperson of the Council to the general
editor... All that I did was to convey the concerns expressed involving
some technical aspects of the published volume and wanted to know if
there were any truth in them.”
to Dr. Joshi's statement in the Rajya Sabha, which Prof. Settar said
he happened to watch on television this morning, “an impression appears
to have been created that the volumes were recalled due to my comment”.
This, he added, is far from the truth. “At no stage during the three
years of my Chairpersonship was a resolution passed by any of the ICHR's
bodies to recall or review the work in progress,” he said, and stressed
that “on the contrary, as many as five volumes (including the ones edited
by Prof. K.N. Panikkar and Prof. Sumit Sarkar) had passed through the
council and none of them was smuggled to press as is being alleged.”
regards Dr. Joshi's contention that the manuscripts were not sent to
press through the proper channel (the Publications Department of the
ICHR), Prof. Settar dismissed it as “superfluous.”
`Towards Freedom' project was monitored by a separate cell under the
direct supervision of the Chairperson by Dr. Basudev Chatterjee (who
was also designated editorial coordinator apart from being the volume
editor for the 1938 volume). It was his responsibility to send the manuscripts
to press, read the proof and attend to the publication.”
Settar had a similar complaint against Dr. Joshi's statement in the
Rajya Sabha about the constitution of a committee to review the manuscripts;
it is the ICHR's contention that the volumes were recalled only because
they were not sent through the review committee, set up for this very
purpose by a resolution of the council in its meeting on August 31 and
September 1, 1999.
this too as “partial truth”, Prof. Settar stressed that the committee
was set up for the explicit purpose of “streamlining and expediting
the publication in future” and that the proposed three-member committee,
with Prof. B.R. Nanda as Chairperson, had nothing to do with the volumes,
including the ones by Prof. Panikkar and Prof. Sarkar, that were already
scrutinised and cleared for publication by the ICHR.
warn of Fascistic designs
18, hundreds of academicians, artists, intellectuals, students, youth
and women activists demonstrated in front of the Indian Council for
Historical Research (ICHR) at New Delhi, protesting its decision to
withdraw from publication the two volumes, one edited by Professor Sumit
Sarkar and one by Professor K N Panikkar, that are part of the Towards
Freedom project. The demonstrators demanded that the two said volumes
be immediately released for publication, and called upon all progressive,
democratic and secular forces to resist all attempts to commualise history.
occasion. Professor Panikkar said this was not merely a question of
publishing a book or two; the role of the central government in this
whole episode must be exposed. Professor Prabhat Patnaik said we are
witnessing the onset of fascism in the country. Professor Aijaz Ahmad
warned those assembled that sinister attempts are being made to rewrite
history, and these have to be resisted. Dr Uma Chakravarty said even
to talk about the oppression of widows has become a crime in India today.
According to John Dayal, such incidents are not the doings of a lunatic
fringe as is sometimes argued; entire Sangh Parivar is responsible for
at the meeting also emphasised that the ICHR episode must not be seen
in isolation. They argued that the attack on the shooting of the film
Water, the vandalism at Kanpur on Valentine Day, the attempts to subvert
the constitution, attempts by the RSS to infiltrate the state machinery,
continuing attacks on the minorities, especially Christians - all these
are parts of a larger design to impose fascism in India.
to speak on this occasion were Neera Chandhoke, Gargi Chakravarty, K
M Shrimali, Badri Raina, Manorajan Mohanty and Anupam Shrivastava. Murli
Manohar Prasad Singh chaired the meeting and Prabir Purkayastha read
out the resolution.
was attended by a large number of prominent personalities. These included
Sumit Sarkar, Vivan Sundaram, Neeladri Bhattacharya, D N Jha, Geeta
Kapur, C P Chandrasekhar, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Moloyashree Hashmi, Javed
Malick, Anuradha Kapur, Narayani Gupta, Tanika Sarkar, Prabhu Mahapatra,
Kalindi Deshpande, Sehba Farooqui, Ram Rahman, Gauhar Raza, M K Raina,
Geeta Hariharan, P M S Grewal and Ambrose Pinto, among others.
which organised the demonstration were: Democratic Teacher's Front,
DYFI, SFI, Jana Natya Manch, Janawadi Lekhak Sangh, Jan Sanskriti, Janawadi
Mahila Samiti, MediaStorm, SAHMAT, Jan Sankriti Manch, Delhi Union of
Journalists, Delhi Science Forum, PDSU, Action India, Nishant Natya
Manch, Jan Hastakshep, AISA, Citizens' Forum for Secularism, Jan Paksh,
PSU, National Federation of Indian Women, Janwadi Shikshak Manch, Lok
Dasta, AIFTU, Saheli, Insani Ekta Muhim, PUDR, Centre of Indian Trade
Unions, BEFI, ALAWU, CWDS and JNU Students Union.
on February 19, as per a decision of the same assemblage, a meeting
was held in V P House lawns. Rafi Marg, to chart out the future course
of action. (INN)
March in Defense of Democracy
of the massive demonstration on 25th March
by Nalini Taneja
attacks on academic freedom and democratic cultural expression by the
BJP government and its affiliates that constitute the Sangh Parivar
have evoked widespread protests all over the country. Central to these
attacks is the suppression of secular history writing and teaching.
School textbooks have been rewritten in the states ruled by the BJP
to suit their long-term fascistic design of undermining the secular
state and the pluralistic traditions of our country. These books define
the nation as all right wing political tendencies do, i.e., in exclusivist
terms. In the realm of higher education their designs cannot be achieved
without both privatizing education, which helps to gear the educational
setup to serve those who can pay well, and by inculcating a sectarian
mindset in those who receive higher education so that they perceive
their aims and goals in life in the narrowest terms. Ultimately, exclusivity
works against the minorities, the unprivileged and the dispossessed,
who can be more easily transformed into the perceived marginal in any
sectarian, undemocratic and exclusivist enterprise. Perceptions of the
nation's history and culture are crucial in this regard.
It is in
this context that we must see the withdrawal of the two volumes of the
'Towards Freedom' Project edited by Professors Sumit Sarkar and KN Panikkar
and the strong-arm methods by the Sangh Parivar that have become a routine
everyday affair in the face of the refusal of the govt. to stem their
tide, and on the other hand the strong disapproval expressed by a cross
section of people throughout the country to their actions, representing
the voice of secular, democratic and pluralistic India.
an urge to unite in defense of democracy in the face of fascistic attempts
to divide people along the lines of religion, to curb civil liberties
and citizenship rights, to assert violence against the secular voice
and expression of difference, to ride roughshod against popular aspirations
for a better life, to destroy their safeguards against being marginalized
by trying to change the Constitution. There is greater anger at the
all too familiar right wing Goebelsian method of resorting to pure lies
from every avenue of institutional medium in their control, and to transform
a falsity repeated again and again into a 'truth'. False charges of
corruption to undermine the authority of those they classify as enemies
are resorted to by them at the drop of a hat. The Sangh Parivar in its
bid for the mind of the Indian people is resorting to every method in
the guidebook of Nazi Germany in order to shift the terrain of political
debate to the Right and away from the questions of people's livelihood
and survival. .
of society that have come out in vocal protest include teachers and
students, artists and writers, theatre persons, those in the media,
and organizations of the working people and the youth. Big meetings
have been held in Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, Baroda, Trivandrum,
and many other places. Resolutions condemning the actions of the Sangh
Parivar and their assault on reason and democratic expression have been
sent to the press by mass organizations representing all sections of
the Indian people. There have been protest marches and dharnas in Universities
and other workplaces. Letters to the press, campaigns on Internet, mass
signatures on a petition to the Prime Minister from the four Universities
in Delhi and from academics all over the world, statements from intellectuals
in India and abroad almost everyday are a reflection of the anger and
anguish at what the Sangh Parivar is doing to this country.
context a massive demonstration was held in Delhi by 'Citizens in Defense
of Democracy' representing a broad alliance of teachers, students, artists,
media persons, writers and other professions, which culminated with
a Resolution opposing the policies of the BJP Government. Slogans rent
the air throughout the march and the subsequent public meeting held
at the point where the armed police deployed by the Government physically
prevented the protesters from proceeding further to the gates of the
Parliament. Placards denouncing the Sangh Parivar expressed distaste
for its actions. The slogans identified and likened the RSS to Hitler.
Thousands of leaflets with the text of the resolution were distributed
throughout the march, and received well by passersby. The meeting strongly
condemned the systematic assault on secular and democratic culture,
voiced its dissent to the politics of authoritarianism, the sectarian
rewriting of school text books, the attacks on minorities, and the attempts
to define the nation irrationally as Hindu, to deliberately confuse
democracy with majoritarianism based on religion.
Sumit Sarkar and Professor KN Panikkar, whose two volumes on the freedom
movement are sought to be withdrawn by the BJP Government, addressed
the meeting. Professor Panikkar underlined the fact that the attack
on these two volumes, as well as the systematic campaign against secular
historians was part of the attempt to suppress and silence all criticism
against the government and to undermine secularism in this country.
It was a part of the larger design of falsification of history, a secular
interpretation of which was perceived as a threat in their endeavour
to define the nation in their own terms. Professor Sumit Sarkar pointed
out that the volumes for their largest part contained documents, and
the Sangh Parivar was bent on withdrawing all such collections, as these
would expose the lies of these right wing forces. These show beyond
doubt that far from being at the forefront of the fight for freedom,
the ideologues of the Hindutva forces had no role to play in the freedom
meeting ended with a pledge to resolutely carry forward the struggle
against the right wing forces in defense of democracy.
of the Citizens March in Defence of Democracy on 25th February
of terror has been let loose by the BJP and its organisations - the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal, the Sanskriti
Raksha Manch, etc. - all of whom owe allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS). The proclaimed agenda of the RSS is the destruction of
our society, as we know it - where different communities live in harmony
while following diverse social and cultural norms. This is to be replaced
by a regimented state that has no room for minorities, dissent or differences.
As promised, they have set in motion a continuing chain of communal
violence. The image of Graham Staines and his two little sons, burning
alive in their jeep for the single crime of being Christians, is a living
symbol of what this regime stands for. Their attacks have targeted all
sections -- singers, artists, cultural organizations, film-makers, historians.
They have started changing syllabi and textbooks to project their version
of the country's ethos and history. In Goa they blackened the face of
a teacher for setting questions, which they decided, were not "patriotic".
They will not rest until they can dictate all aspects of our lives -
even what we wear, eat, read, or think.
they spared "Hindus", as they try to define what a Hindu is.
Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students' wing
of the BJP, led an attack on women students wearing western clothes
in UP. The RSS may well be asked why they prefer "western"
khaki shorts to dhotis!
hypocrisy comes easily to these people. While they violently disrupt
rock concerts, a beaming Bal Thackeray eagerly greets Michael Jackson.
They applauded Taslima Nasreen when she attacks the Muslim communalists
in her country, but now they demand she be punished because she condemns
the Hindu communalists who forcibly stopped the shooting of Water. They
claim to fight Westernisation while their government mortgages the country's
economic sovereignty to the West --allows foreign companies into the
insurance sector, and now eagerly bends over backwards to welcome the
all evils as emanating from the west. But how do they propose to deal
with what we have perfected with no help from the West? The shooting
of the film Water was disrupted for allegedly portraying Hindu widows
in a negative manner. Is the pathetic condition of Hindu widows any
secret? Every school child knows about great reformers like Ishwar Chandra
Vidyasagar and Jyotiba Phule who had the confidence to fight injustices
in our society, pertaining to the plight of widows. Literature and films
in all Indian languages, have for long, dealt with the theme. Why do
these present-day custodians of Hindu culture object only to a film
that will be seen largely in the West?
started the process of a so-called review of the Constitution. Who is
to conduct this review? The Constitution represents years of discussion
and debate within different sections of those who fought for our Independence.
Is it to be "reviewed" by a committee, the majority of whom
owe allegiance to the ideology of the RSS?
is even attempting to doctor history to suit their aims. First, the
Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was packed with historians
of dubious repute whose only merit was that they owe allegiance to the
RSS's ideology. Then books written by two of the leading historians
in the country on the Freedom Movement, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar,
which were already in the Press, were withdrawn for a "review".
Why are the RSS and the BJP afraid of these books, which are essentially
a compilation of primary documents pertaining to the period just before
Independence? Is it because it will expose the dubious role played by
the RSS during the independence movement:' Is this why they need to
doctor the past?
is safe from these forces. They are our very own Bharatiya Taliban.
They are anti-democracy, anti-working people, anti-women. When the people
of this country are crying out for relief against a social order that
is increasingly pauperising the majority of the people, this Taliban
would like us to fight Valentine's Day and Water. Let us fight together
to defeat the designs of this Taliban, wherever we are. Let us raise
our voices and say--this country is ours.
House adjourned after turmoil over ICHR issue
(Report in The Hindu, March 4, 2000)
March 3. The Rajya Sabha (The Upper House of the Parliament) was today
thrown into a turmoil for about half an hour over the controversial
withdrawal of two volumes of `Towards Freedom' series by the Indian
Council of Historical Research (ICHR) as the Opposition stalled proceedings
and forced an abrupt adjournment of the House till lunch.
arose when the Human Resources Development Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar
Joshi, defended ICHR's move while replying to a question by CPI(M) member,
Mr. Nilotpal Basu.
over the Minister's defence of the move, the entire Opposition, led
by Mr. Manmohan Singh, demanded a half-an- hour discussion on the issue.
the Chairperson, Mr. Krishan Kant, announced that question hour was
over, the Opposition members were unrelenting. Sensing the mood, Mr.
Kant adjourned the House for lunch.
Opposition was again on its feet when Dr. Joshi said the 1943-44 volume
of the `Towards Freedom' series, edited by Mr. P.S. Gupta, contained
more documents about the ``role of communists'' in the freedom movement
than on ``(Mahatma) Gandhi's charisma''.
said that the ICHR had requested the publisher, Oxford University Press,
to “temporarily withhold” publication of the two volumes written by
Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Prof. K.N. Panikkar to ensure that the ``lapses
and drawbacks'' found in the earlier volume were not repeated.
the ICHR Chairperson and the deputy director of publications had raised
objections about the earlier volume edited by Mr. Gupta. The two volumes
would be reviewed by a committee comprising Prof. Satish Mittal, Prof.
Hari Om and Prof. A.R. Khan. While the Opposition said none of the committee
members is a modern Indian historian, the Minister all the three were
said that in the past also the then ICHR chairman, Prof. Irfan Habib,
had withheld publication of the 1938 volume of the series to improve
the contents. “Therefore, there is nothing new in it,” Dr. Joshi added.
written reply, he said that as per the agreement between the ICHR and
the publisher, the copyright rested with the council. In its December
12, 1999 meeting, the ICHR had decided that the volumes still to be
published should not be sent for publication without the review by the
council, he said. -
(Editorial in The Hindu. February 19, 2000)
patently unjustifiable move by the Indian Council for Historical Research
(ICHR) to withhold from publication two volumes, of the ongoing project
on India's freedom struggle, by eminent historians Professor Sumit Sarkar
of the Delhi University and Professor K. N Panikkar of the Jawaharlal
Nehru University, ostensibly for a review of all ICHR projects, smacks
of the repressive culture of sabotage and bans on intellectual and creative
activities that is distinctly emerging in recent weeks. The Sangh Parivar's
persistent attempts to distort Indian history in line with-its own ideological
moorings is indeed-all-too-well-known. If the public burning of copies
of widely-acclaimed progressive historiography of Indian society characterised
the ascendant phase of the Sangh Parivar in the country's political
arena, blatant attempts to tinker with the functioning of apex research
institutions has come to mark its wobbly two-year-old regime. The ICHR
in particular has been at the receiving end of the BJP's machinations
ever since the party, with utter disregard for norms of professional
competence and impartiality; packed the body with men swearing allegiance
to the RSS and its fraternal organisations.
withdrawal of the books in question, coming as it does in quick succession
to the lifting of the ban on state government servants in Gujarat participating
in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the sabotaging
of the shooting of Ms Deepa Mehta's film, Water, should leave
no one in doubt about the mindless and militant pursuit of the divisive
majoritarian agenda - all within the rubric of a democratic polity.
The familiar alibi in all this is the catchphrase "majority sentiments
are wounded", lending legitimacy to the view that in the name of
"democracy", the majority can ride roughshod over the minority
- whether this constitutes women or religious minorities. Few if any
can afford any longer not to realise that it is mere lip service that
is paid to democratic politics and the plural ethos it necessarily engenders
by the zealots of the Parivar and the BJP dispensation. After all the
Parivar has by a sleight of the electoral hand as itwere managed to
coopt into the National Democratic Alliance political forces radically
opposed to its own ideological persuasions. Not surprisingly therefore,
whenever deliberately provocative sectarian proclamations dictated by
adherence to ideology raise political tempers to unmanageable heights,
it is swiftly matched by a pragmatic and almost about-turn disclaimer
to its fascist majoritarian outlook, the Sangh Parivar has been steadily
and systematically scuttling the country's democratic process, eroding
the pluralist socio-cultural ethos with its own excluvist and divisive
agenda. The BJP at the helm has deftly sought to neutralise the public
outrage that has emerged as a necessary fallout of every controversial
move. It has managed this by seemingly distancing itself from the controversial
activities of the goons of the Sangh Parivar. Nonetheless, the political
mascot of the Parivar that the BJP is, it can hardly escape having to
offer an explanation for having remained a mute spectator in each single
Censor: The historical record will stand
(Editorial in The Statesman, February 19, 2000)
policing, intellectual censorship--this is the world on offer from the
BJP and its parivar. The decision of the authorities--packed
with the saffron sympathizers--to suspend publication of Sumit Sarkar
and K N. Panikkar's volumes in the "Towards Freedom" series
is an ominous sign of what could happen in an India governed by the
BJP, unrstrained by the compulsions of coalition politics. ICHR was
set up principally to execute this project which envisaged a series
of volumes of annotated documents along the lines of the Transfer of
Power series without the latter's colonial slant. The ICHR authorities
claim that volumes by P S Gupta and Basudev Chatterjee have belittled
the role of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha and highlighted the role of
Communists in the nationalist movement.
of students of history in Delhi University will testify to their eminence
--and charges of deliberate falsification are contemptible, especially
when they come from people with an avowed agenda of rewriting history
with a narrow, sectarian politico-cultural focus.
decision to "review" Sarkar and Panikkar's volumes is obviously
a part of the saffron censorship agenda. No reasons have been given.
There are plenty of good reasons for not having a review. Both Sarkar
and Panikkar are historians of high standing -- their eminence internationally
recognised. Their scholarship, let alone mere competence, is not in
question. Moreover, the volumes are collections of documents. To suggest
a review is to question the integrity of these scholars. To do so without
any stated grounds is incredibly gross, especially when it comes from
a fellow historian, in this instance, B R Grover. We are driven to the
conclusion that such gross, fascist behaviour is to be expected from
the Sangh parivar and assorted hangers-on. In the absence of official
justification, we are driven to informed speculation. Sumit Sarkar has
written the finest textbook on modern Indian history. It was not a government
project and was published by a reputable publishing house. It is required
reading for undergraduates. Sarkar has shown that the Hindu Mahasabha
and the RSS kept aloof from the "Quit India" movement -- a
matter of historical record. Are the parivar cohorts after Sarkar because
he has exposed their antecedents? What would they have him do, falsify
history to cast them as heroes? This censorship is intolerable -- and
if the BJP's secular allies acquiesce in it, they will have reduced
their share of power for a mess of pottage.
(Editorial in The Asian Age, February 19, 2000)
rulers have an abiding problem with history. More specifically, about
how it will record their own actions and interpret responses of those
who are their ideological mentors. They feet threatened by its sweep,
and among the first things ideologically dogmatic but otherwise defensive
governments do is to re-write history. The attempt is to re-fashion
ideas, and the first and most palpable attack is always on textbooks.
The liberal arts in general and those dealing with ideas that can fashion
a viewpoint in particular are thus immediately taken up for "corrective"
action, as targets for change. This crass revisionism has particularly
been a problem whenever those inclined towards exclusivist viewpoints
come near power. In the present case, it.is clearly the scholar-soldiers
of the Hindu Divided Family as symbolised by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak
Sangh who are at work. Right now, with more than just a whiff of state
power in their nostrils, the commissars and gendarmes of the Sangh Parivar
have well and truly unleashed themselves on what they consider to be
academics hostile to their perception of things. If there was a debate
instead of a diatribe, the controversy over the sudden withdrawal by
the Indian Council for Historical Research of forthcoming works of two
prominent historians could actually have been a blessing. But the ICHR
bosses, perhaps governed by the "More loyal than the King"
mentality, have acted in vulgar haste. At his level, the Union human
resource development minister has been an undisguised hawk in "spite
of his own well-advertised academic background. He should know that
academics is an arena of enquiry informed by ideas. Dr. M M Joshi would
recall his days in Allahabad University when the faculty was divided
on ideological lines but that did not prevent it from still being counted
among the few institutions in North India which dared to battle out
ideas instead of using brute authoritarianism to muzzle them.
If the ICHR's objection indeed is that the RSS role during the anti-colonial
struggle is-not being properly highlighted by a section of the historians,
the ideal thing for proponents of this view would be to come up with
their own academic counters. There always is the proverbial Other Side,
the other view to an existing or dominant one. It this kind of sharing
of ideas, or exchange of viewpoints, is not allowed, a state ceases
to be both democratic and pluralistic. Cultural autarkies crumble at
the first possible onslaught; the Soviet Union was undone primarily
because it sought to deny its people the market-driven consumer goods
which were such a rage elsewhere in the world. Doors and windows can
never be shut up forever, because in that case they become walls: and
even walls, like the Berlin wall, can come crashing down when they become
symbols of denial. Dr Joshi and those in charge of the ICHR should themselves
know that for a fact. If they don't, it is just too bad for them. But
apart from being bad for their own understanding, this kind of tinkering
actually cuts at the very roots of the system they all claim to uphold.
If a particular interpretation is unacceptable, the best way to counter
it is to logically prove it to be false. Merely shutting out a given
version will not help. All this, in fact, will become an unintended
but excellent sales promotion drive for the publishers whose product
may otherwise have conveniently lined, up library shelves inside droves
(The Hindu, February 27, 2000)
more the BJP and its thinktanks try to put an academic veneer on the
controversy, the more they end up confirming that the issue is actually
about settling scores with their ideological adversaries. Hasan
Suroor on the ICHR row.)
sophistry and obfuscation, there is really only one way of looking at
the row over the “Towards Freedom” volumes which the Indian Council
for Historical Research (ICHR) has recalled from the press for “review”-
and that is as the BJP's bid to scuttle what it perceives as a left-wing
project, and to replace it with its own version of the independence
- the “adverse” reaction to an earlier volume, the charge that manuscripts
were sent to the Oxford University Press “bypassing” the review committee,
etc. - is no more than a pretext; and as the debate unfolds even Government
spokesmen are not pretending that there is anything altruistic about
it. Mr. Arun Shourie, defending the ICHR's action in a TV debate, has
admitted that if the Congress(I) and left historians could call the
shots when they were in a position to do so, it is perfectly legitimate
for the present dispensation to give them “a dose of their own medicine.”
however, has been less candid and has come up with some extremely facetious
arguments, including selectively quoting a review of the late Prof.
Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume by Prof. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya to justify
the recall of Professors Sumit Sarkar and K. N. Panikkar's works. Prof.
Bhattacharya has charged the ICHR with “misusing” the review and said
that an individual book reviewer's assessment cannot become the basis
for suspending publication of the work two of the country's leading
freedom and the author's freedom to express opinion are at stake if
the professional judgments are used for purposes of politicking in the
realm of academic research,” Prof. Bhattacharya said in a stinging rejoinder
to the ICHR's persistent use of his review to back its own actions.
Prof. S. Gopal, general editor of the “Towards Freedom” project, has
rebutted the charge that the Sarkar- Panikkar volumes were sent to the
OUP without the Council's authorisation. In a strongly-worded statement,
he has reminded the ICHR that no less a person than its own chairman
had “forwarded” these to the OUP.
also questioned the ICHR's authority to withdraw the volumes “unilaterally”
and subject them to another review without consulting him as the general
editor or the volume editors, Professors Sarkar and Panikkar. This,
he has said, is a “violation” of the terms under which the project was
conceived and executed. The ICHR has not responded to Prof. Gopal's
point and has instead gone on a fishing expedition. It has blamed the
then ICHR chairman, Prof. S. Settar, for scuttling a three-member review
committee which the Council had set up in 1998 and to which the “aborted”
volumes should have been referred, according to the ICHR's present chairman,
Mr. B. R. Grover. He has raised doubts about Prof. Settar's motives,
saying:”Strangely, a meeting of this committee was never convened by
the then chairman, Prof. S. Settar.” He has also accused Prof. Settar
of being economical with the truth while recording the minutes of the
meeting at which the committee was set up, and suggested an oblique
nexus between Prof Settar and Prof Gopal on ensuring that these volumes
did not go to the review committee.
is a red herring; the real motive behind the so-called review is to
purge the “Towards Freedom” project of ideas which do not conform to
the tendencies represented by the BJP; and to recast it to fit in with
its own perceptions of the independence movement. There is talk of marxists'
“hegemony” of the history “establishment,” and the “need” to break it.
The BJP and its supporters say that they want to “rectify” what the
“left” historians have done. As everyone knows, “rectification” in the
context of history means only one thing: rewriting or doctoring it.
it ominous is that this is the view not of just some fringe elements
in the Sangh Parivar, whom the BJP is known in the past to have quickly
disowned when they became an embarrassment, but of some very responsible
persons in the Government. It is a sign of the times that what was once
regarded as a hush-hush occupation (even Stalin did not openly declare
that he was rewriting history) has now become a respectable Government
policy with school textbooks being “rewritten” to give them a certain
slant; names of towns and streets being changed in the name of national
“sentiment”; and Indian culture itself being redefined in such a way
as to deny it its composite and pluralistic character.
line, of course, is that it was all started by the Congress and the
left who came together in a “self-serving” arrangement that saw key
academic bodies being packed with left- wing academics. And the works
they produced were written from their perspective, ignoring altogether
the “other” (the non- Congress, non-left; in other words, right wing)
viewpoint. “Whether it was the ICHR or the NCERT they were all packed
with marxists,” fumed a BJP Union Minister.
past week, passages have been pulled out of an earlier “Freedom” volume
to “show” a pro-left bias, and senior BJP leaders have made for quite
an amusing sight lamenting the “downsizing” of Gandhi by left historians.
“For a party which comes from a lineage that has had no love lost for
Gandhi, crying foul over him is nothing but shedding crocodile tears,”
says Prof. Sumit Sarkar. He also denies that there is any attempt either
in the volume which he has edited or in Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume,
which the ICHR has been flaunting, to denigrate Gandhi or “downsize”
according to him, is that the documents do not indicate that the Sangh
Parivar played any role in the anti- colonial struggle. It did not participate
in the 1942 Quit India movement or any other significant phase of the
freedom struggle, but since this does not fit in with the “nationalistic”
image which the Parivar has sought to appropriate and project, it is
nervous. And hence the desperation to suppress the volumes. Meanwhile,
the more the BJP and its intellectual think tanks try to put an academic
veneer on the controversy, the more they end up confirming that the
issue is actually about settling scores with their ideological adversaries.
In a sense, it is a replay of the Ayodhya mindset which led to the demolition
of a “disputed structure” to “set right” a “historical wrong.” This
time around, the axe is falling on academic works to “rectify” what
the Parivar sees as “distortions.” A primitive sense of vindictiveness
- extracting an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth - lies at the
heart of this mindset. Repeatedly over the past week, the apologists
for the ICHR and the BJP have declared that with the change of Government
at the Centre, the “marxists' monopoly” of academic institutions is
over, and that they had better adjust themselves to the change. This
is an admission that academic institutions, until now “monopolised”
by “marxists,” would now be “monopolised” by the Parivar activists,
and confirms that the changes in the ICHR, the Indian Council for Social
Science Research, the National Council for Educational Research and
Training and the Institute of Advanced Studies were indeed motivated
by extra-academic considerations. At another level, this winner-takes-all
approach to academic issues has dangerous implications, and raises the
spectre of a never-ending cycle of ideological blood-letting. Every
time there is a change of Government, it would set about pushing its
own ideas about history, culture and nationalism. To some extent it
has already been happening in States which the BJP has ruled (Uttar
Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra), but a
broad national consensus on India's basic pluralism (a recognition that
non-Hindu traditions also contributed to the country's social, cultural
and political life and more importantly a rejection of extreme ideological
positions, particularly those rooted in denominational prejudices) ensured
that there was no major disruption. The BJP is trying to break that
consensus and impose, through academic research and school textbooks,
an “exclusivist” agenda on the country. The portrayal of Muslims and
Christians in some of the “revised” school textbooks in BJP-ruled States
and the stress on aggressive Hindu nationalism militate against the
liberal ideas which have informed the country's academia until now.
The entire case against these volumes is built on the logic that since
the two professors are “leftists” their work must necessarily be “biased”.
It is of a piece with the logic that anyone who does not wear “saffron”
is somehow a lesser patriot, and therefore a lesser Indian, if not a
downright traitor. It is the beginning of “Talibanisation” by other
means. To dismiss the goings-on at the ICHR as just another polemical
row between the left and the right would be to fall into a trap.
from day one
A brief note on the ‘Towards Freedom’ project
Freedom” project has been dogged by controversy since its inception
in the Seventies, and just when it looked like being back on the rails
the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) itself has blocked
its progress by abruptly suspending publication of the volumes by Professors
Sumit Sarkar and K. N. Panikkar.
comprising ten volumes, was intended to document the last ten years
of colonial rule to counter the British Government's ``Transfer of Power''
series. The objective was to showing that India won its independence
through a struggle rather than as a result of voluntary handover of
power by the British. All the ten volumes, covering the period 1937-47,
were to have been completed by 1977-78 but thanks to shifting ``equations''
within the ICHR it is 20 years behind the original deadline; and is
still going nowhere. The project has already cost Rs. 4 crores.
volume covering the year 1937 was published by Dr. P. N. Chopra in 1985
but it was found to be so “substandard'' that there were few takers
for it, though the current conventional wisdom at the ICHR is that it
was withdrawn by the “Marxist” establishment. Others, however, insist
that its copies are still lying “unsold” in bookshops. In 1987, the
manuscript of Dr. Chopra's second volume relating to 1938 was returned
to him by the then ICHR chairman, Prof. Irfan Habib, who found it wanting
on several counts. The charge of the present ICHR establishment is that
he raised “some ideological objections...(which) suggested a subjective
approach to the selection of documents”.
was streamlined by Prof. Habib and Prof. S. Gopal, who had left it in
1977, was brought back as general editor for the remaining nine volumes.
The volumes were assigned to Prof. Basudev Chatterjee (1938), Prof.
Mushirul Hasan (1939), Prof. K. N. Panikkar (1940), Prof. Bipan Chandra
(1941), Prof. Gyanendra Pande (1942), Prof. Paratha Sarathi Gupta (1943-44),
Prof. Bimal Prasad (1945), Prof. Sumit Sarkar (1946), and Dr. Ravinder
apart from Dr. Chopra's volume, two other volumes have come out--one
by the late Paratha Sarathi Gupta and the other by Prof. Basudev Chatterjee.
The volumes by Professors Sarkar and Panikkar would have been out in
a few months but for the spanner which the ICHR has thrown in. Manuscripts
for the remaining five are still in the pipeline, and now that a committee
has been set up to have another look at the whole project its future
has become uncertain again. (The Hindu)
cultural-political offensive launched by the Hindutva forces zeroes
in on an academic project on the freedom struggle, targeting the works
of two respected academics. )
Sukumar Muralidharan and S.K. Pande in New Delhi
policing has for some years manifested itself in diverse forms in the
political domain of Hindutva. Only recently did Varanasi witness a particularly
noisy variant when guardians of orthodoxy descended upon the sets erected
for a film and destro yed them in a frenzy of moral outrage. And as
the smash and burn school temporarily receded into the background, the
secret cabals took over.
11, K.N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar, historians of some eminence based
in Delhi, received identical letters from Oxford University Press (O.U.P.).
With appropriate courtesy, though without great elaboration, they were
told that the two volumes they had edited for the Indian Council for
Historical Research (ICHR) as part of an ambitious documentation project
on the freedom struggle, were being withdrawn from press. The ICHR's
decision to stop the publication of the volumes at an advanced stage
, ostensibly to subject them to fresh "perusal", was communicated
to O.U.P. through a letter dated February 3. Neither Panikkar nor Sarkar,
nor indeed Professor S. Gopal, the general editor of the series entitled
"Towards Freedom" , was told of this deci sion.
a few more days for the story to work its way into the newspapers. What
followed was an unsavoury story of evasion and misrepresentation. The
ICHR's first recourse was to seek justification for its decision in
the supposedly poor quality of prede cessor volumes in the series. A
"fact sheet" put out by the Council spoke of the volumes pertaining
to the years 1943-44 and 1938, edited respectively by Partha Sarathy
Gupta and Basudev Chatterji, as shoddy compilations premised upon a
skewed understand ing of the freedom struggle.
the principal objections to the Gupta and Chatterji volumes, as summarised
in the ICHR's rather abusively phrased fact-sheet, is that they reduced
Gandhi to a "mere footnote" and needlessly highlighted the
role of the Communist party, which had pl ayed a "traitorous role"
in the freedom struggle. According to the ICHR, in this effort to sanitise
the role of the Left parties, the volume editors "unscrupulously"
deleted vital paragraphs from documents, "in utter disregard of
the well-accepted norms of editing".
damage had been caused by the thematic arrangement of documents, said
the ICHR. This was contrary to the original directives issued under
the project, which insisted on a chronological arrangement. Moreover,
it enabled the intrusion of "subjectiv ity", which was used
to serve the specific purpose of "fabricating the past to a purpose,
for propaganda of a particular ideology".
review of the Gupta volume by Savyasachi Bhattacharya was also drafted
into the mission: "Another major criticism of the volume by none
other than Professor S. Bhattacharya who also toe (sic) the leftist
line, that historical methodology is n ot properly followed resulting
in wrong and unscientific citation of documents (sic)".
initial response to the burgeoning controversy did not remain confined
to the level of ideological critique. A fairly damning indictment on
procedural grounds was also handed out against the editors of the "Towards
Freedom" project. Contrary t o a decision made as early as August
1998, said the ICHR, the editors of the project had not submitted their
manuscripts for the scrutiny of the Council. Rather, they had sent them
directly to the publisher.
Kaimal, the ICHR's Deputy Director for Publications, eagerly joined
in with a statement to the media. The volume edited by Gupta, he said,
lacked an index, which meant that its utility as a research and reference
work was close to negligible.
initial disquiet occasioned by the tone of the official ICHR explanation
- clearly a new low in academic exchanges - it was quickly called to
account for a sequence of false and tendentious assertions. Scholars
familiar with Gupta's work point ed out that the "calendar of documents"
he had presented was a perfectly adequate substitute for an index. Moreover,
the volume provided an entire chapter on Gandhi's role. More significantly,
the ICHR's criticism reflected a basic incomprehension of the purpose
of the documentation project, which was to present material that was
otherwise not easily accessible. Since Gandhi's role is rather well
appreciated and the entire body of his writings is available in a comprehensive
compilation, "Towards Freedo m" as a project could afford
to direct its attention towards some of the lesser known aspects of
India's struggle against colonialism.
offensive to the community of historians was the posthumous denunciation
of Partha Sarathy Gupta, who taught with distinction at Delhi University
and died shortly after retirement last year. Despite a debilitating
stroke he suffered in 1990, he had laboured hard to complete his volume
Bhatta-charya weighed in with a statement deploring the political exploitation
of his academic review. "I learn with surprise and dismay,"
he said, "that a review article I wrote two years ago... is being
misused by the authorities of the ICHR to defend a questionable administrative
action detrimental to academic values." Contrary to the construction
that had been placed on his remarks, he had in fact expressed some admiration
for Gupta's compilation. And then, whatever criticism may have bee n
entered formed "a part of an academic discourse which should not
be used for purposes of hindering the publication of historical documents".
This variety of "politicking," Bhattacharya concluded, endangered
"the reviewers' freedom as well as the author s' freedom to express
intervention imparted further clarity to the situation. In a statement
issued on February 21, he expressed "surprise" at the allegation
that Panikkar and Sarkar had sent their manuscripts directly to the
publisher. "These volumes were submitte d to me by the editors
and after incorporating the changes suggested were forwarded to Oxford
University Press by the chairman of the ICHR," he said. This made
the "unilateral decision" of the ICHR to withdraw the volumes
without consulting either the ge neral editor or the volume editors,
"a clear violation of the terms under which the project was conceived
and executed". More seriously, it involved an "infringement
of the academic rights and freedom" of the historians who had taken
up the responsibilit y for the project on the invitation of the ICHR.
confirmation came from S. Settar who was the ICHR chairman when the
volumes were cleared for publication. "The two volumes were sent
to press with my knowledge," he said in reply to an inquiry from
Frontline: "This matter was duly re ported by me to the
by a tide of adverse disclosures, ICHR chairman B.R. Grover - a stalwart
of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's campaign to seek historical legitimacy
for its Ayodhya campaign - issued a detailed clarification on February
22, with the promise to bring o ut a "white paper" on the
"Towards Freedom" project at an early date.
will clearly have a great deal to account for. Prithpal Bhatia, Professor
of Ancient Indian History at Delhi University and a member of the ICHR,
has already raised serious questions about the propriety of some of
his recent actions. In Grover's n arration, the decision to subject
all volumes of the "Towards Freedom" project to a review was
taken at a meeting of the Council on December 20, 1999. Curiously, the
minutes of this meeting were circulated to members only on February
14, well after the I CHR administration had put into effect its rather
In a letter
to Grover sent on February 18, Bhatia questioned this entire procedure.
The discussion on the "Towards Freedom" project, she recalls,
began with a statement by the chairman that "'Towards Freedom'
has been wound up", in accordance with a deci sion supposedly taken
by the Council on June 30, 1999. It was then brought to his attention
that no such decision had been taken, that a number of volumes had been
published and that a few more were awaiting publication. "To this",
Bhatia writes, "the ch airman said that he was not aware of these
facts of the 'Towards Freedom' project". There followed a lengthy
discussion, following which it was decided that "there would be
no withdrawal of any volume (or) manuscript which has already been published
or s ubmitted to OUP and accepted by it for publication."
words, the ICHR administration has grossly overstepped the mandate it
was given by the last full meeting of the Council. All that Grover can
say in self-extenuation is that the decision to review the volumes before
publication dates from Septemb er 1998. Yet, to this, Settar, who was
then chairman, has the appropriate response: "I read from the newspapers
that the August 31 and September 1, 1998 meetings of the council are
supposed to have set up a committee to evaluate all volumes under the
"T owards Freedom" project. I wish to clarify that the committee
that was constituted was only to review manuscripts received after that
date, not retrospectively." Since the Panikkar and Sarkar volumes
had been sent for publication by that date, they were clearly outside
the scope of the review.
is also disturbed that his correspondence with Gopal is being twisted
to serve the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh clique within the ICHR. He recalls that at the first meeting of
the council after its reconstitutio n in June 1998 by the BJP-led government,
there was a four-hour long discussion on the "Towards Freedom"
project. Although the BJP and RSS sympathisers insisted that the project
be stopped, he was equally clear that it could not be: "I said
that we could respond academically and if there is a feeling that there
have been some omissions, then supplementary volumes could be brought
out." The point was again raised at the next meeting and the compromise
decision was to set up a committee to review all futu re volumes.
Freedom'' began in 1972 as a project of the ICHR. Its basic purpose
was to challenge the interpretation of Indian freedom that had been
presented in a British compilation entitled "The Transfer of Power".
Certain historians think retrospectivel y that the Indian nationalist
response was perhaps a little exaggerated. But they went along with
the project in the expectation that it would deepen both the scholarly
and popular understanding of the freedom struggle.
propagandists within the ICHR seek to hold the entire team of editors
responsible for the inordinate delay in getting the project off the
ground. That is an evident falsehood since "Towards Freedom"
was in essence an internal project of the ICHR until 1988. For most
of this time, it was under the charge of a deputationist from the Gazetteers
Department named P.N. Chopra.
dealing with the year 1937 was published in 1985. Although found to
be wanting in academic quality, it was put into circulation and is still
available in many libraries. A second volume pertaining to 1938 was
ready by 1987 but was not published on account of certain evident shortcomings.
Chopra was shortly afterwards relieved of responsibility for the project.
today seeks to make out a case that Chopra was the victim of intellectual
censorship by Professor Irfan Habib, the eminent historian of medieval
India who was then chairman of the ICHR. The charge has been answered
by Habib himself: "The needs of the project made it necessary for
the volumes to be prepared simultaneously, and accordingly steps in
this direction were taken in 1988-89. It was very gratifying that, with
Professor S. Gopal as general editor, eminent historians agreed to edit
individu al volumes. The entire project was entrusted to the editorial
committee... (which)... proceeded to scrutinise a huge pile of documents,
classifying and selecting them."
of the academic value of the project in its new format is available
from the fact that Oxford University Press agreed to publish all its
volumes without any subsidy from the ICHR. The thematic organisation
which was preferred over a strict chronological ordering also had inherent
merits in that it allowed for the presentation of a vast variety of
material. Whereas the "Transfer of Power" documents had dealt
with largely a single source and could hence be presented chronologically,
"Towards Freedom" was conceived as a project that would go
beyond those self-imposed limitations. "Towards Freedom" was
supposed to include in its ambit official documentation from the lower
levels of the administrative hierarchy, which had been preserved in
the National Archives and the various State archives. Apart from this,
material drawn from newspapers, pamphlets, private papers, and the documents
of various political organisations were meant to be included.
a thematic arrangement unavoidable, since the alternative would be an
unseemly melange of unconnected documents. Grouping diverse material
together in chronological terms would in this context only cause total
confusion, say historians familiar with source material on the freedom
administration has been tied up in agonising contortions in its effort
to defuse the sense of outrage in the academic community over the developments.
Equally picturesque has been the response of the Union Minister for
Human Resource Development , Murli Manohar Joshi. Evidently not cognisant
of the methods and purposes of a documentary history, yet eager to project
an aura of modernity, Joshi is on record as saying that all books need
to be reviewed and revised with the passage of time.
16 witnessed a gathering of historians and academics in New Delhi to
protest against the ICHR action. A statement signed among others by
three former chairpersons of the ICHR - R.S. Sharma, Irfan Habib and
Ravinder Kumar - denounced the withdraw al of the "Towards Freedom"
volumes as the "grossest form of censorship" which was transparently
linked up with the "plan to spread a distorted and fictitious history
of the national movement".
larger protest action took place on February 25, when a resolution to
"defeat the designs of the Bharatiya Taliban" was adopted
to much acclaim. A core group plans to meet again soon to work out a
strategy to confront the ongoing cultural offensive. "Towards Freedom"
may have begun as an academic project and at various stages in its career
seemed little more than an arena for abstruse scholarly disputation.
Today, it seems more akin to the terrain where a battle to retrieve
the authentic history of a nation's independence and the spirit of its
democracy will be waged.
is a fear of history'
Interview with K.N. Panikkar.
Panikkar, Professor of Modern Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi, spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan on his association
with the ''Towards Freedom'' project and his perceptions of the current
controversy over the ICHR' s decision to withdraw two volumes from publication.
Excerpts from the interview:)
you explain the background to your personal involvement in the "Towards
part of this project in 1989, specifically because Professor S. Gopal
was its chief editor. I was invited by the ICHR to edit the volume for
1940. I completed my work in 1995 and handed over the volume to Prof.
Ravinder Kumar who was then chairm an of ICHR. A copy was also given
to Prof. Gopal, who looked through the volume and suggested some changes
which were incorporated. Throughout the period of work there were monthly
meetings of the Editors and the chief editors in which both the contents
and the format of the volumes were discussed. In 1998, I received a
letter from the then chairman of ICHR, Prof S. Settar, that the volume
has been forwarded to Oxford University Press for publication.
as a centralised effort within the ICHR and then became a collegial
effort. As a work of compilation, "Towards Freedom" was essentially
a non-ideological effort, though there would need to be certain criteria
used in sifting through documents and bringing some to light and omitting
others. What exactly were these?
understand the immense amount of work involved in this project. The
sheer bulk of the documents received by each editor was very large.
I do not know the exact count, but I think each editor would have had
to study more than a lakh of pages. A s election now means actually
reducing that to something like 2,000 or 3,000 pages. Obviously this
is a selection in which certain criteria have to be used, of which the
main one was that the volume should be fully representative - it should
comprehend all that happened.
take one particular issue, say constitutional developments or the discussion
on reforms, you cannot provide all the documents. But we tried to provide
those documents which are most crucial for understanding the divergent
views on this issue. As a n example, in my volume dealing with 1940
I have given the response of various political parties like the Indian
National Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Communists
and others to the offer made by the British goverment for consti tutional
reforms. Any student would find in the volume the essential details
of what these diverse actors thought. From there he could follow up
further. The whole volume is arranged thematically and within each theme,
chronologically to enable easy acce ssibility.
are the specific emphases in your volume different from the corresponding
the British were mainly looking at what they themselves did. Take constitutional
reforms, for instance. The British emphasis was mainly on what the thinking
of the Viceroy was or of the Secretary of State for India, not so much
on the Indian sid e. But an Indian researcher would like to know what
was the difference in approach between different Indian actors. More
importantly, our treatment is sensitive to the complex character of
the freedom movement and the participation of various social grou ps
in it, like the peasants, workers, women, students and so on. Such a
view is absent in the British volumes.
manner in which you have approached the communalism question one of
the reasons why the volumes have become the target of an ideological
Since they do not know what these volumes contain they are afraid these
documents might not bring them out in favourable light. The documents
are not presented in order to project a particular party's or group's
role and to undermine any other' s. It represents in a comprehensive
manner what actually happened.
do you think there is an apprehension in some circles that the ideological
fallout of publishing your volume could be adverse for the Hindu Mahasabha
and its affiliates?
It is quite
possible. In my view this is an attack not only on the project, but
on the individuals associated with it. The current attack is not only
on Marxist historians but on liberal-secular historiography. This attack
is essentially rooted in a fear of history. And that fear arises from
the fact that these volumes present a documentary record, which cannot
be denied. K.N. Panikkar can be accused of distorting history, but it
is not so easy to refute the contents of a letter written by Savarkar.
For this reason, they would like a documentary history to be stopped.
This is a very real factor - the fear of the real, the fear of the authentic.
this point towards a reinvention of the past?
As evident from the ongoing efforts of the Sangh Parivar to rewrite
history. A Hinduised past is being created. This is not an attack on
us alone. What they are attempting is to discredit us, by calling into
question our professional integri ty. The false, malicious and slanderous
attack on historians by Arun Shourie is a good example of this attempt
to discredit the secular scholars of this country. In the present case,
they are accusing us of acting in an unethical manner by sending our
vo lumes to the publisher. As I have said earlier, this is a false charge.
We have observed all procedures expected of us. Still their spokespersons
like M.G.S. Narayanan continue to spread lies without any intellectual
honesty or compunction. Obviously, th ey are making these charges in
the belief that some of them will stick.
did you first get an inkling that some such thing is being planned?
I had no
inkling. As someone who has followed proper procedure, I could not even
think of any such thing. I was planning my work for the next six months
with the intention of devoting sufficient time to this work, because
there is a great deal of proof-r eading and checking left. Surprisingly,
we came to know of it only from the publisher. I did not expect the
ICHR to conduct itself in this manner, even under this government, because
after all it is a body made up of professional historians.
the ICHR has itself been under attack for some time for this specific
project, from people like Arun Shourie, who have been saying that it
is an unproductive project.
is very misleading, because when we started working in 1989, five years
were generally accepted as a reasonable time to complete it. When we
actually started working on it we found that the material already collected
was thoroughly inadequate . In fact, documents had to be collected afresh
in several areas. Mind you, this is not a full time job for any of us.
Still I completed my manuscript in 1995, Partha Sarathy Gupta in 1993
and Sumit Sarkar in 1996. The delay and expenses on the project w ere
actually before we took over. M.G.S. Narayanan says that Rs.1.2 crores
had been "wasted" on this project when he took over as the
Member Secretary in 1990. Obviously, it was spent before we were associated
with the project, while Narayanan was a memb er of the Council. Was
he remaining silent then because he was loyally discharging the orders
of a supposedly "Marxist" chairman? Has he now discovered
a sense of indignation since the BJP is in power? Since he had recognised
the project as a "colossal w aste" of money even in 1990,
he is guilty of dereliction of duty for not taking proper steps during
his tenure as a member of the ICHR and later as Member-Secretary.
of financial misdemeanours have also been levelled.
completely baseless and malicious. When Arun Shourie, who happens now
to be a Minister in this government made these charges, I had said publicly
that he should find out the true picture from the Ministry of Human
Resource Development and after ascertaining the facts make an apology.
Well, he only heaped further charges.
Hindutva the arena of political contention is now history. Is that how
you see this whole thing shaping up: that there is now a fresh offensive
under way to efface the past and create a new record of nationalism
as it were?
so. That has always been their agenda and they have used history very
effectively. I find a distinction, though. So far they have been using
history in order to stigmatise Muslims. Their entire communal enterprise
was based on that stigmatisati on. Now communalism has entered a new
phase, in which aggressive steps are on to define India as a Hindu nation.
As a part of this project, they have developed this concept of cultural
nationalism, which is based on a reinterpretation of the past. Theref
ore in the present circumstances, particularly in the context of the
recent socio-economic developments, the reinterpretation of the past
in religious terms has become more crucial. All secular voices have
to be either marginalised or suppressed. So hist ory is going to be
a major arena of contest. These are the forewarnings of greater attempts
sponsored and supported by the state to change our notions of the past.
professional historian, how would you read the implications of this?
We have had in the last ten years, when the contention for influence
within civil society has been sharpening, several cases of archaeologists
and historians trampling upon prof essional ethics. Many of them are
now in the ICHR. Is the discipline strong enough to withstand this or
are we going to witness a withering away of scientific history writing?
there are two or three levels at which we have to understand this. Historical
scholarship in India is very strong and it has a very good record of
adhering to the methods of the discipline. Now I feel that the discipline
is in danger for two reas ons. One, though historians in this country
are largely secular and have great regard for the methods of history
writing, there has been a slow erosion. I was in one of the universities
in Haryana the other day, which had a very good department of histor
y at one time. But today an overwhelming majority of young historians
who were very secular before, have gone over to a communal view. This
is actually an indication of how this kind of ideology is creeping into
the university departments.
there is a popular history that is being created by Hindu communalists,
which has nothing to do with the professional history being produced
in the universities. I sometimes wonder whether this popular history
will completely overwhelm th e professional strain.
what medium is this popular history disseminated?
popular books in all languages which are being circulated in a big way.
And I understand there is a huge project undertaken by the RSS, through
an organisation known as Itihas Sankalan Samiti, to write the history
of each district of the countr y. So if these histories are published,
they will become the accepted or the most easily accessible history
for the mass of the people, which is going to influence the popular
understanding. So this danger of popular history replacing professional
histor y is really very strong. Once that happens, the historical consciousness
in society might also be influenced. I have been told by some schoolteachers
in Delhi that they cannot go to their classes and teach history, because
the students come with certain communal notions already imbibed from
their immedite surroundings. During the Ayodhya movement I have myself
confronted this. Many have preferred to accept the communal construction
of the history of Ayodhya over the verifiable history.
that mean there has to be a new idiom of popular history? When large-scale
communalisation is exerting this kind of pressure on the professional
discipline of history, how do you reverse that kind of process?
think it is necessary to write local history from a perspective which
conforms to professionally accepted norms of research. Professional
history does not reach the people. A history of a village is very rarely
written, but people are interested in wha t has happened in their locality.
We always think of thematic histories or mega-histories. You may be
interested in knowing that a very interesting move is on in Kerala.
They have undertaken this big project of writing the history of each
panchayat with the involvement of the people, with local historians,
schoolteachers and college teachers trained to write local history.
In fact only last month, there was a workshop for training and orientation
of people who could write this kind of history. I think s omething on
those lines could stop the threat that popular history of the RSS kind
a question of bias'
Interview with Sumit Sarkar.
Sarkar, Professor of Modern Indian History in Delhi University,
spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan about his involvement with the
"Towards Freedom" project, sharing his perceptions of the
issues raised by the Indian Council for Historical Research's (ICHR)
did you personally get involved in the "Towards Freedom" project,
and what can you tell us about the procedures and principles you followed
as an editor of the volume for the year 1946?
in this project starts operationally only from 1989. The whole procedure
that was laid down for us was that we would function as a board of editors.
We met collectively and kept on doing so regularly as long as these
manuscripts were being colle cted. As and when we submitted particular
manuscripts, the ICHR would send them to Professor Gopal who would make
suggestions and then we would have discussions and we would modify whatever
was needed. Finally it would be sent to the publisher. I submitt ed
my manuscript in 1995. None of us was doing this on a full-time basis,
apart from Dr. Basudev Chatterji. The minutes of the council in September
1998, the same council which we now hear set up some kind of review
committee, states clearly that my manu script had been received and
transmitted to OUP (Oxford University Press) for publication. Contrary
to all the charges that we made crores of rupees - the gap here between
reality and fiction is so vast that one feels almost shy of exposing
it. How can such absurd things be said? Not a paisa of ICHR money has
passed through my hands.
essentially was the purpose of the project - to capture and portray
the mood of the country as it was progressing towards independence?
I think also the title chosen is rather significant. It is not a documentation
of the history of the freedom struggle. It is "Towards Freedom".
That is to say, to document the last ten years leading to that peculiar
combination of Freedom and Pa rtition that we had.
the logic of the volumes, which Prof. Gopal has expounded very well
in his general introduction, is that we should bring out the diversities.
And the significance of the anti-colonial movement lies not only in
the struggle against the British, b ut in the progressive broadening
of the movement - how, in other words, democratic, secular and some
kind of federal and social justice aspirations enter the canvas - the
background, in short, to the Constitution.
was the broad thematic arrangement for your volume dealing with 1946,
and is there any reason why it should prove controversial?
they want to make something controversial out of it, it is something
else. But one thing we were all agreed on is that these are going to
be publications of documents. So whatever our personal views, we would
keep them out. We decided to keep ed itorial remarks to a minimum. There
would be a general introduction by Gopal which is common to all the
volumes, a special introduction again by Gopal for that particular year,
and then a brief introduction by the volume editor. Naturally we cannot
do an ything without some presuppositions and assumptions, with which
people can disagree. But the whole point of these volumes was that since
a massive amount of diverse publications was being presented and editorial
comment is being kept to a minimum, people can judge for themselves.
Now I was
editing the 1946 volume. Can you imagine a volume of that type without
documentation of the communal riots from August 1946 onwards? The way
our critics are arguing, no doubt I will hear it said that there is
too much on the communal riots whic h had nothing to do with the freedom
struggle. Of course, they were not part of the freedom struggle, but
neither was British repression. So do we leave these out?
the arrangement, in my volume, it is broadly like this - it is divided
into two parts, the first dealing with British India and the second
with the princely states. The principle I followed to save public money
in what are very massive volumes, wa s to exclude material which has
already been published and is easily accessible.
part dealing with British India, the first chapter deals with the documentation
of directly anti-British movements. The early part of 1946 is full of
these, the most famous one being the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) rebellion,
or mutiny as it is called . There is a great deal of documentation on
that available. Our critics will not like this chapter because in these
movements Communists were rather active. At least the British thought
they were very dangerous. The RSS is nowhere on the scene. What can
Two deals with political organisations, as many as we could get hold
of. It suffers from some limitations, like the Muslim League documents
are all in Pakistan and we have no access to them. There is quite a
lot on the Congress, a bit on the Communists and the socialist groups,
something on the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Hindu Mahasabha.
chapter I think is about labour and peasant movements. Here the year
1946, up to about August, was a period of unprecedented labour movements,
which even though not a part of the freedom struggle, were deeply feared
by the British and met with their repression. We see the beginning of
the Telengana movement and the Tebhaga movement in Bengal. These things
are also part of "Towards Freedom". What sort of freedom are
we talking about - freedom can be of many sorts.
is the ideological agenda of the RSS and like-minded political groups
to try and portray the Communists as non-participants in the freedom
movement, perhaps even its adversaries. Do your selections in a way
challenge that conception?
extent that the documents are there. Now the 1942 volume is not yet
ready. When that is so, then a few other things will come out about
the Communist role, which some people may find dubious. But in 1946
there was just no question about collaborat ion. In fact, the British
felt threatened by the Communists. There is a lot of such documentation
which one has to present. What can one do? It is not a question of bias.
And in these movements, Communists as well as socialists and elements
of the Congre ss are very much present.
It is not
my fault after all that both in the direct struggle for freedom and
the other kinds of anti-British activity, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha
are conspicuous by their absence. These right-wing Hindu movements share
with the Muslim League a part icular honour - they were the only groups
that were never repressed by the British. At some period or the other,
every other movement came under some kind of repression. The Communists
first became legal in 1943. Immediately after Quit India, for instanc
e, they were not repressed. But that is rather exceptional.
one kind of absence of the Hindutva forces from the movement towards
freedom. The bigger absence of course is that they have no role in the
broadening of the content of the freedom struggle.
then, your compilation was a threat to the conception of the Hindu nation
that is now being constructed?
some fears that they would have. They might be afraid that their absence
would be noticed in any kind of objective documentation of ''Towards
Freedom''. But there is in a sense a deeper agenda, which threatens
not only ''Towards Freedom'', but also all notions of intellectual and
cultural freedom. Basically, what these people want to bring back are
old-fashioned, discredited notions of what history is all about, that
is, Indian history as divided neatly into Hindu and Muslim periods,
defining periods by the religion of the rulers. That was the dominant
way in which partly due to colonialism and partly on account of our
own contributions, history was taught and studied for a long time. The
national movement would then be understood like a stor y of cops and
robbers, of great leaders and great villains.
have changed since the 1950s. And in this, the Marxists have made a
signal contribution but not only Marxists... I think we need to make
the point that relatively few, perhaps even a minority, of these eight
volume editors would consider themselv es Marxists...
say that I am old fashioned enough to think it would be a badge of honour
to be called a Marxist. But various scholars, all modern and liberal,
have made major contributions. This is why modern Indian historiography,
starting with D.D. Kosambi in the 1950s, is acknowledged the world over
- wherever South Asian history is taught or studied - as quite on a
par with or even superior to all that is produced abroad. And that is
why Irfan Habib or Romila Thapar or R.S. Sharma are figures respected
even in the most diehard anti-Communist American universities. They
cannot be ignored if you are studying South Asian history.
to the thematic arrangement of your volume, could you tell us what are
the further contents?
Four in Part One deals with communalism. It documents the communal riots
from August 1946 and the anti-communal mobilisation. Gandhi figures
in a major way here. One could of course write a full volume on that,
but I have already referred to his role in my Modern India as his finest
hour. Apart from this, there is, ample evidence, of efforts being made
by other groups to stop the communal bloodshed. There is for instance
an area north of Noakhali with a very powerful peasant organisation,
o verwhelmingly Muslim, which stood guard and were able to block the
spread of riots.
part of the volume in some ways would be the most original part, focussing
on the princely states. We see that in British India direct political
agitation died down a bit after about February-March 1946, partly because
the nationalists and the British had got involved in direct negotiations
and partly because of the fratricidal riots. But a lot of things are
happening in the princely states, in a much more feudal atmosphere.
On this I have got a lot of rich material. These rulers were in many
ways the bulwarks of the British empire. And without the struggles against
them, sometimes under the leadership of movements like the States Peoples
Conference, Indian unity would not have been achieved. It was not achieved
just by federalism, though it certainly made a contribution. There was
a combination of pressures from below, which the Congress and particularly
Sardar Patel were able to utilise. So these movements are important
for the free India that emerges in 1947.
is a conception of history that goes beyond the "good king, bad
king" comprehension to an understanding of the mass of the people
is a much more total conception.
you say that it is an idiom of history-writing that develops with the
evolution of democratic ideas in society and that the effort to extinguish
it represents a threat to democracy?
And academically, it can mean disaster. I would say that there has been
a collective failure on the part of our community of historians, in
the sense that not enough of these ideas have been effectively spread
at what could be called the "low er" tiers of education and
culture in general. At the school level, at the popular level and in
the less endowed universities outside the metropolitan centres, the
old views still exist and they are being reproduced. And of course over
the last ten years they are being reproduced in a much cruder and offensive
form through the media and the RSS propaganda machine.
think there has been a disjunction between the profession of history
writing and the way in which history is perceived?
suggest that as the Nehruvian dream began to fade, as Congress regimes
moved away from the project for independent development and some kind
of social justice - notably during the Emergency of course - we get
the substitution of those commitments with rhetoric. More and more we
are taught to look at the nation as something of a myth, as just a map,
a cult or a flag. This of course the RSS takes over and develops much
further. But what is the nation? Is it a map or a flag, or is it living,
suffer ing, dying, struggling human beings? It is this kind of nationalism
that I think is useful both for human beings and for history.
think your project would contribute to the broadening and revival of
that view of the nation?
would hope so. But more accurately I would put it negatively. The Sangh
Parivar fears it might do so. I make no great claims for how effectively
it does so.
of Protest to the Indian Prime Minister by Academics outside India
Prime Minister of India
order from the ICHR directing the Oxford University Press to stop midway
the publication of two volumes on the freedom struggle by two of India's
leading historians, Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Prof. K.N. Panikkar, has
shocked the academic community all over the world.
Sarkar of the University of Delhi and Prof. K.N. Panikkar of the Jawaharlal
Nehru University had been commissioned to write a volume each for the
Indian Council of Historical Research's multi-volume series on the Freedom
Movement in India under the "Towards Freedom" Project. They
had completed their work and the typescripts were in press when the
Oxford University Press received the letter directing it to suspend
production of the two volumes and return them to the ICHR for review.
This was done without informing the respective authors and without the
knowledge of the General Editor of the series who alone is authorised
to approve the manuscripts. The authors were informed by the Oxford
University Press. Moreover, as per reports in the press, it appears
that the letter was written bypassing even the ICHR and at the behest
of the HRD Ministry.
this entire move first and foremost as a blatant attempt to stifle secular
historical scholarship by imposing censorship on the work of two of
India's leading social historians. We also see it in the context and
logic of the increasing attacks on minorities and on artists, film-makers
and intellectuals who have remained committed to the vision of a secular
and democratic India, a vision that was inscribed into the Constitution
and a vision without which this country could not have won freedom from
protest against this despicable attack on freedom of scholarship and
urge you to direct the ICHR to immediately retract its order to stop
publication of these two volumes.
Udayakumar, University of Minneapolis, USA
Amitava Kumar, University of Florida
Vasudha Dalmia, Dept of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University
of California, Berkeley
IK Shukla, Writer, Coalition for an Egalitarian and Pluralistic India
(CEPI), Los Angeles, USA
S Narayan, CEPI
Dr SA Samee,
K Dasverma, Mechanical Engineer, CEPI
Sharma, Classical Singer, CEPI
Business Consultant, CEPI
Computer Engineer, CEPI
Saranathan, Rockville MD
Sengoopta, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London
Lal, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques,
Montrouge, EHESS-CNRS-MNHN, France
Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University
Guha, Brown University
Das, Member of the Faculty, Rockefeller University and editor, SAMAR
Torri, President of ITALINDIA, Italy
Turco, Rome, Italy
Wood, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, BC and Past President, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute
Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Tonini, Universita' di Firenze, Italy
Secretary/Treasurer, Pakistan NGO Forum, and SOUTH ASIA PARTNERSHIP
Cecchi, University of Roma "La Sapienza", Roma (Italy)
Buttino, University of Turin, Italy
Iyengar, University of Chicago
MIT Lincoln Lab, Lexington
Shankar, Dept. of English, Rutgers University, Newark, New jersey, USA
Forbes, State University of New York
Bean, Curator, Peabody Essex Museum
Ramaswamy, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann arbor
Sinha, Professor, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, USA
University of Florida
Tal, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA
Dept. of EnglishUniversity of Venice, Italy
Dept. of the History of Health sciences, University of California, San
Choudhuri, Syracuse University
Ian C. Fletcher,
Associate Professor, Georgia State University
Levine, Professor, University of Southern California
Nair, University of Pennsylvania
Herring, Professor of International Relations and Director, Mario Einaudi
Center for International Studies, Cornell University
Bonakdarian, Arizona State University
Groomfield, Former Professor, University of Michigan and California,
Institute of Integral studies
B. Seely, Associate Professor, University of Chicago
Associate Professor, University of Dhaka, now at SOAS, University of
Dang, International Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Pollock, University of Chicago
Kaul, Associate Professor of English, University of llinois at Urbana
South Asian solidarity Group
Chakraborty, York University, Toronto
Varughese, Toronto refugee Community Inc.
Benenati, University of Turin, Italy
Appa, London School of Economics
Assistant Professor, Northern Arizona University
University of Cincinnati
Asst. Professor, Dept. of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel
Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK
Evo Polacco, Italy
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Adduci, Turin, Italy
Chair, Visual arts, Morgan Park Academy, Chicago
Mehreen, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Stein, Institute of Historical Research, SAS
Flora, Queensland, Australia
Gangoli, London School of Economics, London
CNET, Laboratoire de Bagnieux, France Telecom
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University
Mathur, New School of Social Research, New York
INSAAF, New York
Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
Indian Leftists (FOIL), USA
Associate Professor, Dept. of South Asian studies, University of California,
Chew, CERAS, Montreal, Canada
Gorley Kempt, Canada
University of Rochester
E Haynes, Associate Professor, dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Burian, Professor of Philosophy and Science Studies, Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University of Blacksbrg, Virginia
Mukherjee, Director, HFC Engineering, C-COR.net, USA
Engineering Consultant, Mission Viejo, California
Roy, University of Cincinnati
University of California at Berkeley
American University, Washington
Professor of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
Seattle Community College
Queens' University, Belfast
Associate Professor, Universite de Lille 3, France
California Institute for Technology
University of Chicago
Gupta, University of Windsor
Associate Professor of History, Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn. USA
Cornell University (Executive Director, Mario Einaudi Center for International
Professor, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Fletcher, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cincinnati
Feldman, Professor, Cornell University
Samuel N. Harper Professor, Depts. of Anthropology and South Asian
University of Chicago
Professor of Pharmacology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
South Asia Research and Study centre, Montreal
Curran, Teaching Assistant, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA
G. Lin, South Asians for Collective Action, California, U.S.A.
Duara, Professor of History, University of Chicago
University of Kentucky
Distinguished Professor, Hunter College and the Graduate Centre, City
University of New York
Associate Professor, International Development Studies, Roskilde University,
Ghosh, William C. Macdonald Professor of Education, Dean Faculty of
Education, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
of Indian PM and President
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Prime Minister of India
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