Investigative Journalism or Slander:
Do You Have More Questions Mr. Shourie?
By Vishwa Mohan Jha
Department of History, ARSD College, University of Delhi
In 'June-July 1998',
the 'progressives' alleged that the BJP government 'packed the Indian
Council of Historical Research [ICHR] with pro-Ram Mandir historians',
putting an end to the 'leftist control' of the institution. Arun Shourie,
a Magsaysay Award winner for investigative journalism and a BJP MP,
decided to investigate. It took him less than six months to unearth
a series of 'scandals' and publish the findings in a book entitled Eminent
Historians: Their Technology, their Line, their Fraud.
There are two sets
of 'scandals'. The first set relates to the functioning of the ICHR.
Shourie discovered that a number of projects- some of national importance-were
undertaken by these 'eminent historians', most of which remain unfinished,
while costing substantial amounts of money (pp. 11-22,23-32). Further,
a book was plagiarized by the very officer with whom it was entrusted
(pp. 33-39). There is even an account of financial quibbling between
an unnamed 'eminent' historian' and the ICHR over the utilization of
a part-time travel grant of Rs. twenty thousand (pp. 45-48). Even as
Shourie was investigating he had begun to publish, which brought him
in conflict with two 'eminents', in print and on TV. These are also
recounted with the characteristic flourish, along with reminiscences,
about his earlier feats in commie-bashing (pp. 1-10,40-45,49-59).
As the plagiarization
issue, one learns, is sub judice, with the accused going to court, we
may not comment on it. Nor are we in a position to judge the other issues-some
of which have been reported earlier in the newspapers-one way or the
other. But we would definitely like to hear more of them. More precisely,
we would like to hear the last thing about them, and about
the other charges of corruption and malfunctioning in the ICHR, the
ones which have very much been in the news in the recent past and which
Shourie chose not to investigate, not even to refer to them incidentally
in the present tome.
Some other points
are in order. First, the data selected by Shourie himself shows that
the non-completion of projects amounting to dereliction was not the
BJP government's criterion for excluding certain historians from the
Council membership: Dr B. B. Lal, who did not complete it (p.251), was
appointed a member, while Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta, who published
three monumental volumes (p. 11), was not. But then Lal is a pro-Ram
Mandir historian, not Gupta. Second, the instance of Lal suggests that
leftists alone have not been the exclusive 'beneficiaries' of ICHR's
funding. Third, Shourie has elsewhere tried to hide the fact
that frontranking, orthodox Marxists too may have been victims of the
malfunctioning of ICHR (and not just others like Parmatma Saran). In
an interview to India Today, he tells us about the fifteen volumes
that were completed by A. R. Desai, which then disappeared and were
finally got retraced by the present Chairman. For Shourie, Desai is
here just a well-meaning, 'well-known sociologist', not the Marxist scholar and activist that he is to all others!
Above all, Shourie
has selected his instances from the thousands of decisions taken by
the ICHR till date including those relating to study-cum-travel grants,
publication grants to books and journals, fellowships, grants for holding
seminars and workshops and so on. That is the major way the ICHR has
affected the production and transmission of historical knowledge in
this country. What has been the track record of the Council's members
in this respect? The instances listed by Shourie are no doubt serious
in themselves, but surely the judgment on the Council must rest to a
far greater degree on the manner in which the Council members have decided
about the research projects of others than on the way they have gone
about their own research assignments. In the end, we all must demand
greater transparency and accountability in all that the Council undertakes
Shourie would have
little patience with all this. In the book he is concerned only with
arguing why the 'eminent historians' do not deserve a place in the Council,
but in the interview he advocates the abolition of 'institutions
like ICHR'. 'For it only leads to the patronage of intellectuals'. That it also helps-or should
help more and in better ways - historical research to survive throughout
the country is of no concern or importance to him.
Not that he is interested
only in historians, not history. Far from it. The ICHR scandals, those
of the first set, are but 'small scandals' to him (p. ix). The 'real
scandal', to which he devotes the rest of the book, is this:
In regard to matter
after critical matter-the Aryan-Dravidian divide, the nature of Islamic
invasions, the nature of Islamic rule, the character of Freedom Struggle-we
find this trait: suppresso veri, suggesto falsi. This is the
real scandal of history-writing in the last thirty years. And it has
been possible for these "eminent historians" to perpetrate
it because they acquired control of institutions like the ICHR. To undo
the falsehood, the control has to be undone (p. 106, emphasis original).
The key institution
in this case was National Council of Educational Research and Training
(NCERT). The 'more eminent' members of the 'gang' became the authors of NCERT textbooks on history, and have been
spreading 'blatant falsehood' through them ever since. By subjecting
the NCERT textbooks and a few other books to his searching analysis,
Shourie seeks to show through detailed discussions of several examples
how these people have been denigrating Hinduism, 'whitewashing' Islam
and glorifying socialist regimes, pushing through all along the Stalinist
view of history which even the Soviet historians have given up.
For ancient Indian
history, Shourie has picked up R.S. Sharma's Ancient India (NCERT,
Delhi, 1996), D.N. Jha's Ancient India, An Introductory Outline
(Manohar, New Delhi, 1997) and D.D. Kosambi's Myth and Reality
(Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1962,1983 reprint). His main accusation
is that in the name of writing history, these historians make a series
of 'assertions and conjectures' without any evidence (p.157); that indeed
when faced with evidence that contradicts their belief, they try to
get away with a fanciful interpretation. He illustrates:
It is mandatory
in such books to maintain that beef was eaten in ancient India, and
so we read, "It (the cow) was not yet held sacred; both oxen and
cows were slaughtered for food. Beef was a delicacy offered to the guest...".
"The cow is'described at one or two places in the Rig Veda as not
to be killed (aghanya)". our author [D.N. Jha] allows. No matter.
"But this may only imply its economic importance", he declares!
(p.l59,citing D.N.Jha,op.cit.,p. 14).
Only a person who
has read virtually nothing on the subject may pronounce like Shourie
does here. For none of the issues involved-the historical importance
of the question of beef-eating in ancient India, the evidence for this
in the Vedic period, and the interpretation of the epithet aghnya
(not aghanya} for the cow-owes its original research and discussion
to these historians. It is enough to quote the following from the mass
of detail put together by the doyen of Dharmashastra studies, bharatratna
P. V. Kane, in 1941 :
In the Rig [veda]
frequent reference is made to the cooking of the flesh of the ox for
offering to gods (particularly Indra).... In the Rig [veda]. VIII. 43.11
Agni is styled 'one whose food is the ox and the barren cow'. In Rig.X.79.6
it is suggested that the cow was cut up with a sword or an axe. In the
Rig. itself the cow is frequently called 'aghnya'.... The word ... appears
to mean 'one that does nor deserve to be killed' and Nirukta (VI.43)
explains it in that way. It should be noted that that word occurs sometimes
in opposition to 'dhenu' (as in Rig.IV.1.6, VIII.69.2). So it may be
argued that in times of the Rig. only barren cows if at all were
killed for sacrifice or meat and cows yielding milk were held to be
not fit for being killed.
The work of Mr L.L.
Sundara Ram (Madras, 1927) on 'Cow Protection in India' contains an
exhaustive treatment of the subject from Vedic times and cites the attitude
of other nations and religions towards cow-killing.
...It cannot be
gainsaid that the phenomenon of the voluntary giving up of meat by vast
populations in the continent of India, when their ancestors had been
meat-eaters for ages, is unique in the history of the whole world.
Note the italicized
words in the above quote, 'appears to mean', 'may be argued', 'if at
all'. Such expressions, for better or worse, have been the stock-in-trade
of critical reasoning in ancient Indian historical scholarship in general,
as even a most cursory familiarity with the discipline will show. They
often arise out of customary scholarly precaution, the uncertainties
that a scholar feels about his/her own understanding of the evidence.
Amidst these uncertainties, however, they have often found it possible
to come out with firm conclusions. Thus D.C.Sircar (rightly called in
his lifetime 'the greatest living epigraphist' by R.C. Majumdar): 'The
patronage of the [Vaishnava] religion might have been the cause
rather than the effect of the growing importance of the new religious
creed. There is no doubt that from the end of the fourth century
it gradually grew in popularity all over India...'
There is no doubt'
of the second sentence in the above quote does not depend on the 'might
have been' of the preceding one. For Shourie, however, two such phrases,
if they occur in successive sentences (or even paragraphs), must stand
in direct causal relationship to each other. Innocent of these procedures,
he suggests that the use of words like 'may', 'probably', 'perhaps'
is typical of this group of historians alone who are whereby 'forced
to acknowledge that there is next to no evidence to support what they
are saying' (pp. 158-59). He does not stop here, and proceeds to offer
a full-mouthed, foolproof demonstration by producing quotation after
quotation and italicizing 'may', 'perhaps' and so on therein (pp. 159-67).
In asserting that in using these terms the quoted statements are 'acknowledged
to be without basis' (p. 159), he has demonstrated only one thing to
the professional historian (in fact even a serious undergraduate student):
his ignorance of the research works on which the quotations from Jha's
small, introductory book are based. I shall pick out just two quotes
from the Mauryan period:' "this god (Herakles, mentioned by the
Greeks) may have been Krishna of later legends" ' and '
"the main inspiration of Mauryan art was perhaps derived
from Persian imperial art" '(p. 162, citing D.N. Jha, op. cit.,
pp. 66, 70). The interested lay readers may look up the evidence for
these two statements in The Age of the Nandas and Mauryas edited by
K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, who does not belong to Shourie's
target group of historians.
But the evidence
for identifying Herakles in the Greek accounts with Krishna is discussed
also in Kosambi's essays on the Gita in his Myth and Reality, which, as we shall see
presently, Shourie has picked out for special criticism. The doubt naturally
arises whether Shourie has completely read even the article he cites,
leave alone the other research works. At the very first checking, I
discover he has not! The opener of Shourie's diatribe in chapter 15
is the accusation that Lord Indra has been called ' "rowdy and
amoral" ' without evidence (p. 156). It is worth seeing how much
of the evidence Shourie has missed in Kosambi's article:
Indra took his own
father by the foot and smashed him (Rigveda 4.18.12), a feat
which the brahmin Vamadeva applauds....
The original god
whose misdeeds are never sin is surely the upanishadic Indra who says
to Pratardana Daivodasi: 'Know thou Me alone ... I slew the three-headed
Tvashtra, threw the Arurmagha ascetics to the wolves, and transgressing
many a treaty, I pierced through and through, the Prahladiyans in the
heavens, the Paulomas in the upper air, and the Kalakanjas on this earth.
Yet such was I then that I never turned a hair. So, he who understands
Me, his world is not injured by any deed whatever of his : not by his
killing his own mother, by killing his own father, by robbery, killing
an embryo, or the commission of any sin whatever does his complexion
the allegation of the 'eminent historians' denigrating ancient India,
Shourie brings in the two-volume work, A History of India by
the Soviet historians K. Antanova, G. Bongard-Levin and G. Kotovsky
(Progress Publishers, Moscow, vols. I and II, 1973, English translation
1979). He produces several examples to show that while the Soviet Marxists
appreciated the achievements of ancient Indian civilization in full
measure, the Indian Marxists exerted to belittle them as much as they
could. A chapter and more are devoted to this exercise by Shourie, who
mockingly names the chapter after the well-known Indian proverb - gavah
chust, muddayi sust.
Deceit and ignorance
are all that one finds there. For example, he compares the two sets
of historians on Kalidasa thus:
The work of Kalidasa
is referred to [by the Soviet historians] as 'one of the pearls of ancient
Indian literature', as 'an illustrious page of history's world culture'....
'Without swerving from earlier traditions Kalidasa stood out as an innovator
in many respects', the Soviet historians write in contrast to our
eminences (p. 191, emphasis added).
Of these eminences,
he chooses to discuss Jha alone (pp. 174-77). So we may begin by noting
that the other eminence R. S. Sharma, has to say through that instrument
of spreading 'blatant falsehood', the NCERT Ancient India: 'But
what has made the Gupta period really famous is the work of Kalidasa.
Kalidasa wrote Abhijnanashakuntalam which is considered to be
one of the best hundred literary works in the world'! And this is the sentence
from Jha's book, with which Shourie has drawn the contrast:' "But
the works of Kalidasa", declares our historian, "are not indicative
of an intellectual rebirth or revival of literary activity; they merely
imply a further development of the literary forms and styles which were
evolving in the earlier period" '(p.175 citing from D.N.Jha, op.cit.,p.114).
However, the point
that Jha makes here is one against the idea of 'intellectual rebirth
or revival', which is what the nationalist historians imply when speaking
of the Gupta period as one of renaissance. The same point is made by
the Soviet historians in the clause 'without swerving from the earlier
traditions' in the quoted passage. But does the contrast lie in Jha's
remaining silent on the greatness of Kalidasa? Shourie claims to have
discussed pages 112 to 115 from Jha's book (p. 176,n.51),the criticised
sentence being from p.114. This is what Jha states on Kalidasa on the
preceding page: 'The poems of Kalidasa remain unequaled in their metrical
and verbal perfection. His most famous work, the play Abhijnanashakuntalam,...
remains the supreme achievement of early Indian literature and stagecraft'.
is not always irritating; it can be amusing too! He refers to 'an unavoidable
fact' in early Indian history-improvement in the condition of shudra
artisans and craftsmen in the early centuries of Christian era-which
these 'eminents' cannot but acknowledge:
The guilds come
into being, the variety of professions multiplies. To his discomfiture,
our author [D.N. Jha] has to acknowledge that the condition of even
the artisans improved.... "Artisans and craftsmen were largely
drawn in this period from the shudras," says our author, "who
gained in wealth and status on account of the progress of crafts and
commerce.... The economic distinctions between the vaishyas and the
shudras thus tended to be blurred...." That, unfortunately is an
unavoidable fact... (p.164).
Only if Shourie
knew that the 'eminent' Jha here is drawing on the researches of 'the
more eminent' R.S. Sharma! It was Sharma who first pointed out at
length improvements in the condition of the shudra due to economic
growth during this period. Our national authority on
Ambedkar obviously does not know the first thing about Sudras in
Could Shourie be
any worse? It has to be shown to be believed. For Jha, he asserts, 'Lord
Shiva is just a "development of phallic cults" ' (p. 159,
citing from Jha, op. cit., p. 90). Note that 'just' is Shourie's imputation,
not a part of the quote. Pressing home the attack, he gushes:
'... that even a
foreigner-Stella Kramrisch-should see such an effulgence in the concept
of Shiva and this eminent historian just the extended phallus...!' (ibid).
The quotation is not there on the cited page, nor on any of the other
eight pages mentioned in the entry 'Shiva' in Jha's book! We quote below
the paragraph on Shiva from the page cited by Shourie to show the magnitude
of falsehood he perpetrates:
by Megasthenes as Dionysus, evolved from the Rigvedic god Rudra and
the Tamil god Murugan, though his Tamil antecedents are sometimes doubted.
A number of non-Aryan fertility cults, such as those of the phallic
emblem (lingam) and the bull (nandi), merged with the worship of Shiva.
The earliest evidence of the phallic cult goes back to the Harappan
period. It was incorporated into Brahminism around the beginning of
the Christian era, and Shiva has been chiefly worshipped in the form
of a linga ever since. But he was worshipped in human form as well.
One of the earliest representations of Shiva in his human form comes
from the village Gudimallam (near Madras)...
The onus on Shourie
here is twofold : he must both show where Jha has written the alleged
thing and admit that he did not read or understand the above quote from
Jha's book. Failing either, he stands accused of lying.
It is not historical
evidence but something called 'the Theory' (by Shourie) that is alleged
to dictate the writings of these historians. Shourie goes to considerable
length to demonstrate-and demolish-this mockery of history with reference
to the idea of bhakti and its relation to feudalism. Thus they
all speak of feudalism in Indian history because 'the Theory has proclaimed
that societies transit through feudalism' (p. 228). And, as it further
assumes that 'everything, including scriptures setting out different
paths into inner realisation, is the product of the pattern of
means of production...' (p. 230, emphasis added), they proceed to show,
with no evidence or at most with arbitrary selection of fragments of
evidence', that bhakti was no more than a product of feudalism.
Shourie discusses and criticizes the statements of Kosambi and Jha on
bhakti and feudalism (pp.227-30), and traces it all to the lineal descent
of 'the Theory': 'To start with there is the Theory as revealed to Marx
and Engels. All that Kosambi has to do is to locate some Indian examples...
and Kosambi's repute as a leading theoretician and historian is established.
And all that... Jha has to do is to repeat what Kosambi said' (pp. 231-32).
No wonder Shourie regularly spoke of them all as belonging to a gang
('giroha') elsewhere. Here he exposes the Theory in all its absurdity:
if bhakti or personal devotion was the outcome of feudalism,
then Islamic Arabia in the seventh century, Tibet with its Mahayana
Buddhism till the 1950s and India of the age of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,
Surdas, Kabir, Nanak and Tulsidas would be feudal too, like each other
and like India in the Gupta period! (pp. 230-32).
again: Shourie does not know that Karl Marx had pointedly rejected Kovalevsky's
view that there was a feudal period in Indian history, that Kosambi
firmly rejected Marx's views on Indian history, and that the concept
of feudalism and its application have been a most complex and contentious
issue among these very historians, as among others. So much for 'the
Theory' being propagated by 'the gang' in one voice!
However, it is not
really necessary to go into Shourie's lack of familiarity with the feudalism
question (or with any of the umpteen other controversies and debates
in ancient Indian history) or the merits of his historical comparisons
to see the inanities of his exposition: he is theoretically naive, so
that he not only misunderstands the argument being put forward but also
cannot see his own point about Kosambi refuting his own allegation;
and he has not read in full nor understood the article he quotes from.
To see bhakti (or the Gita) as related to certain socio-economic
or political structures is not to see it as their 'product' necessarily.
Had Shourie been sensitive to this distinction, he would have seen that
Kosambi did not see bhakti as the outcome of feudalism if for
him 'the invention of bhakti precedes the development of feudalism'
(p. 229). And Jha places the composition of the Gita in the second
centuries before the emergence of feudalism and argues that 'the doctrine
of bhakti... became socially more relevant in the Gupta. Far from denying that the
Gita is capable of other interpretations in other contexts than
feudal, Kosambi in fact argued for it at length at the very outset in
the same article:
has attracted minds of entirely different bent from each other and from
that of Arjuna.... Any moral philosophy which managed to receive so
many variant interpretations from minds developed in widely different
types of society must be highly equivocal.
The argument flows
over with acute observations about the different ways in which the Gita
inspired a long series of 'outstanding thinkers' in Indian history. Kosambi should have known,
before writing that kind of article, that Aurobindo, Tilak and Gandhi
'attached such pivotal importance to the Gita', contends Shourie,
and asks rhetorically: 'Were they also buttressing feudalism?' (p. 231).
Here is a sample from that very article of what Kosambi knew, and which
Shourie may learn with benefit: 'Though both fought hard in the cause
of India's liberation from British rule, Tilak and the Mahatma certainly
did not draw concordant guidance for action from the Gita. Aurobindo
Ghose renounced the struggle for India's freedom to concentrate upon
the study of the Gita'.
The transition from
'Hindu' to 'Muslim' India also saw the decline and disappearance of
Buddhism in India [so that 'Hindu' India had also been 'Buddhist' India!].
Shourie tells us how these 'eminents'-Satish Chandra joining their ranks
here with his NCERT textbook Medieval India-have
tried to make Hinduism the culprit for the decline of Buddhism, belittle
the factor of Islamic invasions and overlook the several real causes
of its decline that Doctor B.R. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda and Sri
Aurobindo wrote at such length so long ago. Making a triumphant demonstration
of his learning through lengthy citations from these luminaries (pp.
97-106), he asserts:
We find in such
factors a complete explanation for the evaporation of Buddhism. But
we will find few of them in the secularist discourse today. Because
their purpose is served by one 'thesis' alone: Hindus crushed Buddhists,
Hindus demolished their temples...(p. 106).
focused on another factor about which we hear little today: internal
decay' (p. 103). More specifically: 'Then these monasteries became rich',
he [i.e. Vivekananda] recalled, 'the real cause of the downfall is here'
We may begin by
correcting his memory: a few pages ago he wrote a full paragraph (pp.
89-90) on R. S. Sharma' description of the internal decay: 'Now, it
is not that this historian erases the internal corruption which had
sapped Buddhism' (p. 89). Sharma's crime there is said to be blaming
Brahmanism for the decay:
'We find that in
the beginning, every religion is inspired by the spirit of reform',
this historian [i.e. Sharma] tells us, 'but eventually it succumbs to
rituals and ceremonies it originally denounced. Buddhism... became
a victim to the evils of brahmanism against which it had fought in the
beginning'. Hence: the original seed of evil is in 'brahmanism',
indeed it is evil per se; and Buddhism lost out because it fell
back into that cesspool (p. 90 citing Sharma, Ancient India,
p. 78, emphasis Shourie's).
But is Sharma here
calling brahmanism itself evil, a cesspool? Isn't he speaking of the
evils hat were present in Brahmanism? Exactly so, as I found on looking
up the cited page. Sharma there describes how while Buddhism 'changed
for the worse', Brahmanism was curing itself of its 'evils', was changing
for the better:
It [i.e. Buddhism]
became a victim to the evils of brahmanism against which it had fought
in the beginning. To meet the Buddhist challenge the brahmanas reformed
their religion. They stressed the need for preserving the cattle wealth
and assured women and shudras of admission to heaven. Buddhism, on the
other hand, changed for the worse.
This is what Shourie
reads to shout that the Marxist has made brahmanism 'evil per se' a
'cesspool'! Shourie distorts, and how!!
One major aspect,
universally acknowledged of the decline of Buddhism is that it was assimilated
by Puranic Hinduism; thus the Buddha became one of the ten incarnations
of Vishnu, Harshavardhana dedicated his Buddhist play Nagananda to
the goddess Gauri, Buddhist trantrism and Hindu tantrism had many common
features, and so on. The process of the assimilation-which thus also
witnesses the prior separate existence-of Buddhism and Hinduism, is
seen most graphically in iconography, for example in the following account
by J.N. Banerjea:
Thus the [Buddhist]]
gods like Saptashatika Hayagriva, Heruka, Yamari and Jambhala, the first
an emanation of Amitabha and the last three of Askshobhya, have their
prototypes among the various Brahmanical gods, as their names or iconographic
to the Puranic mythology, was primarily a demon to kill whom Vishnu
assumed the form of a horse-headed man. The special cognizance of Saptashatika-Hayagriva
is the scalp of a horse over his head; another aspect of the same god,
which is associated with Akshobhya, is three-faced and eight-armed,
and the number of arms as well as the emblems in the hands distinctly
connect it with the Hayagriva incarnation of Vishnu.
Unaware of this
reason for the disappearance of Buddhism, Shourie lambasts Satish Chandra
for writing that 'Buddhism did not so much decline, as it assumed forms
which made it indistinguishable from Hinduism',
charging him with pushing the 'line' of denigrating Hinduism! It would
seem that Shourie's readings on the decline of Buddhism do not go beyond
what he has cited in the book, for the citations from Ambedkar and others
do not refer to the assimilation process, and Shourie concludes it must
be a perverse forgery of the comrades!
But does he understand
what he has cited? He cites Vivekananda (p. 102) to show that the Swami
too held Islamic invasions responsible for the 'destruction' of 'Buddhism
or the structures associated with it' in 'Afghanistan and beyond' (pp.
101-2,262-63). Vivekananda does not speak of the 'destruction' of the
structures by Islamic 'invaders' in cited passage, but instead refers
to 'Turkish admixture and their conversion to Muhammadanism':
In many places of
modern Afghanistan and Kandhar, etc. [Vivekananda wrote], there yet
exist wonderful stupas, monasteries, temples and gigantic statues built
by their Buddhist ancestors. As a result of Turkish admixture and their
conversion to Muhammadanism, those temples, etc. are almost in ruins
Nor does Shourie
understand the implications of Vivekananda's stress on internal decay
as the main cause of the decline of Buddhism.
Had he done so he
would have had to disagree with Ambedkar's idea of Islamic invasions
as almost the complete explanation of the decline (pp. 97-99). And with
Aurobindo's allusion to' "the exclusive trenchancy of its [Buddhism's]
intellectual, ethical and spiritual positions" ' (p. 106) for trenchancy
of positions does not go with the process of decay.
It remains to discuss
Shourie's last major point about Buddhism, 'the fashion... to ascribe
the extinction of Buddhism to the persecution of Buddhists by Hindus,
to the destruction of their temples by the Hindus' (p.99). He asserts:
'...the Marxist historians who have been perpetrating this falsehood
have not been able to produce even an iota of evidence to substantiate
the concoction' (ibid). Is that so? Shourie refers us to Sita Ram Goel's
refutation of Romila Thapar's position on the issue (pp. 99-100). One
need not, however, go to the Goel-Thapar exchange to see that Shourie
here is trying to cover up his own false statement ('no iota of evidence'
for 'the concoction') by distracting attention from the evidence for
the persecution that Sharma has mentioned in his textbook (and to which
Shourie alludes notes on page 89):
The brahmana ruler
Pushyamitra Shunga is said to have persecuted the Buddhists. Several
instances of persecution occur in the sixth-seventh centuries A. D.
The Huna king Mihirakula, who was a worshipper of Shiva, killed hundreds
of Buddhists. The Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda cut off the Bodhi tree
at Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Hsuan Tsang
states that 1600 stupas and monasteries were destroyed, and thousands
of monks and lay followers killed; this may not be without some truth.
The Buddhist reaction can be seen in some pantheons in which Buddhist
deities trample Hindu deities. In south India both the Shaivites and
Vaishnavites bitterly opposed the Jainas and Buddhists in early medieval
times. Such conflicts may have weakened Buddhism.
A refrain in Shourie's
invective is that the 'eminents' speak of the exploitation and oppression
of the masses only for the ancient Indian history, never for Muslim
one, and that while they denigrate Hinduism they are all admiration
for Islam and silent on the religious bigotry of people like Aurangzeb.
The fact is, the model study of the exploitation of the masses by the
state in pre-British India remains Irfan Habib's Agrarian System
ofMughal India. Before he utters further nonsense, let Shourie read
the book and let him reflect on Kosambi's statement about the Muslims...
becoming, in their own way, as superstitious as and more bigoted than
Meanwhile, we may see what he omitted to quote from Satish Chandra on
Aurangzeb: 'We may now turn our attention to some of the other measures
of Aurangzeb which may be called discriminatory and how a sense of bigotry....
Thus Aurangzeb... reasserted its [the Mughal state's] fundamentally
But what about the
description of the religious policies of the Muslim rulers? Does not
Satish Chandra try to whitewash them? Very much so, Shourie assures
us with a wealth of illustrations. For example, the religious policy
of the Delhi Sultans. Satish Chandra states:
Their [i.e. the Turkish rulers'] policy
towards temples and places of worship of the Hindus, Jains, etc., rested
on the Muslim law (sharia} which forbade new places of worship
being built 'in opposition to Islam'. But it allowed the repair of old
temples 'since buildings cannot last for ever'. This meant that there
was no ban on erecting temples in the villages, since there were no
practices of Islam there. Similarly temples could be built within the
privacy of homes. But this liberal policy was not followed in times
of war. Then the enemies of Islam, whether human beings or gods, were
to be fought and destroyed.
It is plain that
Satish Chandra here is describing the policy of the Sultans in their
own idiom, the policy they professed to follow in the light of their
own interpretation of the sharia. But for Shourie, these are
Satish Chandra's explanations for the policy of the Sultans, which lead
him 'to gild the shariat itself (pp. 91-92)!
Here is Satish Chandra's
own-the historian's-judgment on the way this policy worked in practice:
In times of times...
the Hindus practised their religion openly and ostentatiously. According
to Barani, Jalaluddin, Khaiji observed that even in the capital and
provincial centres, the idols were publicly worshipped and the texts
of Hinduism publicly preached. The Hindus pass beneath the wall of royal
palace in processions, singing, dancing and beating drums to immerse
the idols in the Yamuna, and I am helpless', he said.
Despite the pressure
of a section of the orthodox theologians, this policy of broad toleration
was maintained during the Sultanate, though with occasional lapses.
Only the first and
the last sentences of the above passage are discussed by Shourie. He
omits Satish Chandra's reference to the evidence for the first statement,
that is the testimony of the contemporary historian Barani. And then
says that the first statement is a 'blatant falsehood' with no basis
in the sources! ['But these historians, having, through their control
of institutions, set the standards of intellectual correctness, the
one questions the falsehoods, even though he does so by citing the
writings of the best known Islamic historians of those very times,
he is the one who is in the wrong' (p. 92, emphasis added)].
As for the last
sentence of the quote, in using the clause 'though with occasional lapses'
Satish Chandra is being succinct, and not furtive and apologetic as
Shourie insinuates. For he describes at sufficient length the instances
of these lapses elsewhere in the work-the doings of Firuz Shah Tughlaq
and Sikandar Lodi. It is important to note
the references to these instances, as well as to the war-time abandoning
of the policy of 'broad toleration'. For all the instances from Goel's
book that Shourie musters in chapter 12 (pp. 107-116) refer to the destruction
of temples and the like either by Firuz Tughlaq and Sikandar Lodi or
in course of wars, when they do not relate to people (like the Bahmani
ruler Ahmad Shah I) who had nothing to do with the Sultanate!
But what about conversion
by force, 'the lakhs upon lakhs of Hindus whose conversion the Muslim
historians of the time celebrated'? The modern historians begin by cross-checking
the information from one source with that from another; they accept
nothing at face value. For instance, when they find Aurangzeb ordering
in 1672-73 that all madan-i maash (religious benefices) granted to Hindus
be repossessed and further grants be made only to Muslims, they probe
further and find that in Bengal, during the reign of Aurangzeb, 'Mughal
officer in Sylhet issued more madan-i maash to Hindus after the 1672-73
order than before that date'!
And they probe still further to show the increasing Islamization of
the state despite that.
And for the theory
of conversion of the Hindus by force, historians do not think that it
'fits the religious geography of South Asia':
had ever been a function of military or political force, one would expect that those areas
exposed most intensively and over the longest period to rule by Muslim
dynasties-that is, those that were most fully exposed to the "sword"-would
today contain the greatest number of Muslims. Yet the opposite is the
case, as those regions where the most dramatic Islamization occurred,
such as eastern Bengal or western Punjab, lay on the fringes of Indo-Muslim
rule, where the "sword" was weakest, and where brute force
could have exerted the least influence. In such regions the first accurate
census reports put the Muslim population at between 70 to 90 per cent
of the total, whereas in the heartland of Muslim rule in the upper Gangetic
Plain - the domain of the Delhi Fort and the Taj Mahal, where Muslim
regimes had ruled the most intensively and for the longest period of
time - the Muslim population ranged from only 10 to 15 per cent. In
other words, in the subcontinent as a whole there is an inverse relationship
between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of
The last nail that
Shourie drives in the coffin of 'Satish Chandra's policy' of 'broad
toleration' is the following confusion that Sita Ram Goel has reached
'in his decisive work', Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, the
Islamic Evidence, volume II' (p. 107):
of temples at the hands of Islamized invaders. continued for more than
eleven hundred years, from the middle of the seventh century to the
end of the eighteenth. It took place all over the cradle of Hindu culture,
from Sinkiang in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South, and from Seistan
in the West to Assam in the East." (p. 117, citing from p. 255
of Goel's book)
Shourie holds full
brief for Goel, calling his study 'meticulous and unimpeachable; (p.
107, n. 1) and his conclusions 'unassailable' (p. 117). In 1993, the
same year that Goel's book came out, Richard M. Eaton published his
study of Islam in Bengal, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier,
Eaton too noted
the destruction of temples in Bengal, but it was highly irregular and
never a systematic policy pursued by the state. On the contrary, temple
building continued in full strength through Muslim rule. The table
(reproduced below) in the book
constitutes a resounding rebuttal of Shourie's and Goel's claims.
Dated Brick Temples, by Sect, 1570-1760
Brick Temples of Bengal: From the Archives of David McCutchion, ed. George Michell
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 195-254. Note: The temples
listed by Michell are limited to monuments "in reasonable state of
Now for a brief account
of Shourie's expert knowledge of Aurangzeb. When I.H. Qureshi and Satish
Chandra explain in detail that the imposition of jizya by Aurangzeb
did not lead to the conversion of the Hindus on any recognizable scale
they are not 'whitewashing' jizya, but are writing against a
widely heald view that jizya's imposition was intended for large-scale
conversion of people to Islam. The view in fact dates back to the report
of Manucci, according to whom, 'the personal tax paid by the Hindu traders
every year in advance nearly ruined them, to the great delight of Aurangzeb
who expected their imminent conversion to Islam'. So it becomes necessary
to state, as Satish Chandra does: 'It was not meant to be an economic
pressure for forcing the Hindus to convert to Islam for its incidence
was too light-women, children, the disabled, and indigent, that is those
whose income was less than the means of subsistence were exempted, as
were those in government service. Nor, in fact, did any significant
section of Hindus change their religion due to this tax.'
Ignorant of the
issue, Shourie produces bulky quotations from Qureshi's The Muslim
Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (with a proper aside
on Qureshi's migration to Pakistan and his political importance there)
and Satish Chandra's textbook (pp. 128-30), and babbles away:
Yes, Aurangzeb introduced
the jaziya, but cautions Satish Chandra, "it was not meant
to be an economic pressure for forcing Hindus to convert to Islam, for
its incidence was to be [sic] light." For this assertion Satish
Chandra gives two bits of proof, so to say. First, "women, children,
the disabled, the indigent, that is those whose income was less than
the means of subsistence, were exempted as were those in government
service." How could Aurangzeb have exacted attacks from those "whose
income was less than the means of subsistence?" And why would he
exact a discriminatory and humiliating tax from those who were already
serving his interests and those of the Islam state?! The second proof
that Satish Chandra gives is that "in fact, only an insignificant
section of Hindus changed their religion due to this tax"-but
could that not have been because of the firm attachment of Hindus to
their faith, because of their tenacity rather than because of the liberality
of Aurangzeb') (pp. 123-4)
The last bit, the
italicized one-Shourie preaching Chandra about the strength of Hinduism-when
read with the following quote from Chandra's book in our learned treatise,
has a truly comic flavour:
'On the whole',
says Satish Chandra, 'conversion to Islam where not affected with the
strength of the sword. If that was so, the Hindu population of the Delhi
region would have been the first to be converted. The Muslim rulers
have realized that the Hindu faith was too strong to be destroyed by
force.... Barani also says that attempts to use force had no effect
on the Hindus'. (Shourie, p. 95 citing Satish Chandra, p. 86)
Turning to Bipan
Chandra's Modem India, Shourie finds there the same whitewashing
of the Muslims (ch. 14). Here his disagreement with Bipan Chandra's
account is fundamental, on what a Muslim really is. Quoting profusely
from the Quran Shourie argues that it is futile to seek any other
explanation for anti-nationalism and communalism among the Muslims than
in their religion itself! It was their religion that required the Muslims
to stay away from the national movement, not to love their country as
it 'requires believers to turn to Arabs, Arabic, Arabia' (p. 266). It
was Islam that made them inherently communalist as it 'requires believers
to shun non-believers and do opposite of what they do' (ibid.). And
it is not in certain contexts, in certain specific periods and places,
that this would be seen. For 'these are motions that are fed to the
believer with, so to speak, his mother's milk from the moment of his
conversion' (p. 149).
So Shourie has turned
a real Muslim theologian himself. After setting out a code of conduct
for true Muslims, he must go ahead and pronounce that all the Muslim
rulers in Bengal were not Muslims from 1204 when they conquered a part
of Bengal to 1679, for more than 470 years, when 'the jizya had
never...been imposed or collected in Bengal'
For didn't they ignore 'the ayats from Quran. Jhadis and fatwas
which direct the believers to shun, ostracize, subjugate, and suppress
non-believers till they give up and embrace Islam' (p. 145)? Nor were
all those Muslims true believers who took part in the national movement
and practised Hindu-Muslim unity! Nor was Iqbal when he wrote "sare
jahan se achchhaa" and did not except Arabia!!
charges these 'eminent' historians with making the textbooks the instruments
of socialist propaganda. In support he uses parts of a nine page chapter
in the NCERT textbook Society, State, and Government (1996) by
S. N. Jha to prepare an eight-page chargesheet (ch. 9) that the book,
which has 16 chapters and 142 pages, is a device for injecting the Marxist
venom in the students!
But Shourie has
been talking about 'eminent historians', what is he doing with an 'eminent'
political scientist here? More specifically, he has been taking apart
NCERT Class XI-XII books on history, and is finished with Ancient
India, Medieval India, and Modern India. Why doesn't he take on
Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev's Contemporary World History, the
history textbook for Class XII by NCERT? After all, Arjun Dev is no
less 'eminent' than these people. Is it because he read in the book
the following and other things that give lie to his own 'line', 'the
Theory' of Arun Shourie:
The political development
of the Soviet Union was accompanied by gross violation of liberties
of the people and the principles of democracy.... A number of political
parties and groups... had their members in the Soviets. During the Civil
War and later, when there were attempts to organize uprising, they were
eliminated from the political life of the country. Most of the leaders
of these parties either left the country or were exciled to Siberia.
The Bolshevik Party...,
became the sole political party in the country. This party established
its exclusive control over the country. Even within this party, gradually
all democracy was extinguished.
Gradually, in the
1930s, in a country which professed building a new type of society and
a higher type of civilization, dictatorship of one man took shape.
The number of people
who perished in the Great Purge is only beginning to be fully estimated.
Their number was enormous. They included some of the most prominent
communist leaders, veterans of the revolution, writers, artists, scientists,
military and civilian officers as well as some leaders of the communist
parties of other countries.
The foregoing by
no means implies the absence of gaps, errors, obscurities, contradictions
and stylistic lapses in the writings of the above scholars, as indeed
in those of ;others and in other disciplines. It is their presence that,
among other things, makes possible research through critique. For instance,
the use of if at all in the quote from Kane seems misplaced to me, as
the uncertainty of interpretation relates not to the evidence for cow
slaughter but to the significance of aghnya. And I don't think
that the term 'reflection' correctly represents the relation between
bhakti and ancient Indian society as described by the above scholars.
Critique has been-and must remain-the essential prerequisite of knowledge
production. In my own limited research, I have not been able to draw
on the researches of others without criticism, including of the group
of historians I defend in public here.
For critique is
a measure of recognition as well, and is to be distinguished from ignorant
slander, from lampooning a work as mischievous, insidious nonsense.
Thus Karl Marx, himself a foremost critic of Hegel, was irritated by
'the tiresome, conceited and mediocre epigones who set the tone among
the educated German public'-the likes of whom went about calling Spinoza
a 'dead dog' and Hegel a 'deflated balloon'-to 'openly' declare himself
'the pupil of that mighty thinker [i.e. Hegel]'. The formation of Max Weber's
ideas in turn rested on a critique of Marx to the extent that 'the bulk
of Weber's intellectual output' has often been said to represent a long-drawn-out
'dialogue with the ghost of Marx'. Nearer home, the Marxist
Kosambi severely criticized S. A. Dange, the leader of Communist Party
of India, for not qualifying his [i.e. Dange's] critique of European
scholars with a recognition of their contribution:
'In noting, quite
correctly, that British histories of India are coloured by the national,
and class prejudices of their writers, Dange forgets that most of our
source material was first collected, analyzed, arranged by foreign scholars.
To them we owe the critical method, the first publica-tion of authoritative
texts, and archaeological exploration... could he not have spared a
few sentences for European and American orientalists, particularly for
the great line of German Indologists from Grassman to Luders? They were
thinkers who approached Indie studies with insight, understanding, sympathy,
In the end, it is hardly comprehensible that a winner of Magsaysay Award
for investigative journalism should write as such a reckless ignoramus.
But one easily understands that an upwardly mobile political ideologue
in a hurry should do so.
Publications, New Delhi, 1998. The quotations are from p. ix of the
Today, November 23, 1998, pp. 37-38
was the Hindi word that Shourie used for them in the TV encounter
V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, vol. II, pt. II, Poona, 1941,
pp. 772, 773, 776. Emphases added.
Sircar, "Vaishnavism," in R.C. Majumdar and A.D. Pusalker,
eds.. The Classical Age, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1954,
p. 414 (emphases added).
1967, pp. 305, 351-60.
Kosambi, Myth and Reality, pp. 24-26.
Ancient India, pp. 163-64.
Jha, op. cit.,p. 113.
R. S. Sharma, Sudras in Ancient India, second edition, Morilal
Banarsidass, Delhi, 1980, pp. 192-201, 204-7, 240-44, 318.
Jha, op. cit., pp. 89-90.
Ibid, p. 91.
Ibid, p. 106, emphasis added.
Kosambi, op. cit., p. 12.
Ibid, pp. 13-15.
NCERT, New Delhi, 1996.20 Sharma, Ancient India, p. 78.
Sharma, Ancient India, p.78.
J.N. Banerjea, in R.C. Majumdac, A.D. Pusatker, A.K. Majurndar, eds..
The Age of Imperial Kanauj, Bharatiya 'Vidya Bhavan, Bombay,
1964, pp. 282-83.
Satish Chandra, op. cit., p. 32.
Sharma, Ancient India, p. 78.
D.D. Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History,
second edition, Bombay, 1975, p. 378.
Satish Chandra, Medieval India, pp. 230, 233.
Ibid., p.85, emphasis added.
Ibid., pp. 85-86.
Ibid., pp. 71, 113.
Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760,
Ibid., p. 115, emphasis added.
Ibid., p. 185.
Tapan Raychaudhuri, 'The Mugal Empire', Cambridge Economic History
of India, vol. 1, p. 188.
Satish Chandra, op. cit., p. 232.
Eaton op cit, p. 178 n. 58.
Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev, Contemporary World History, vol.
I, NCERT, 1995, pp. 71, 73,74.
Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, Moscow, 1986, p. 29; E. J. Hobsbawm,
The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, Fontana, Calcutta, 1992, pp. 294-95.
Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory, Cambridge,
A.J. Syed, ed., D.D. Kosambi on History and Society, Bombay,
1985, p. 74.