Sunday, 28 June 2015

Indian Express Interview 26 th June 2015

Indian Express Interview 26 th June 2015

Original Transcript

1. What are your future plans for ICHR?

A.     The founders of ICHR identified as many objects as ‘a’ to ‘x’ leaving only two letters unrepresented of the English alphabet. Their successors consider it a sacrilege if one wants to review these dictates. This tendency creates a big problem where to begin and how to fix priorities. After the second world war, the informative and descriptive historical narratives are replaced by empirical, analytical and theoretical discourses which would require scientific and non-scientific methodologies. The results of scientific methodological approaches are tentative, every problem is revisited, reinvestigated, refined or rejected. Thus historical exercise has become the most complicated pursuit.  The results of such researches, instead of being factual, are more critical, elitist and interpretative hovering high over ground. These writings defy common man’s understanding. Imparting Historical knowledge to every one as common and minimum education program is not attempted.  India, being the oldest continuous civilization and modern largest democracy, should plan to see that the common historical knowledge reaches the doorsteps of every citizen. In fact, India had enjoyed such kind of education reach every door in attractive art and theatrical forms. ICHR may take up publication of children history books, preparation of historical documentaries etc. India had a great tradition of writing ‘kshetra or sthala puranas’ , brief histories  of important places, ‘kula puranas’, the histories of communities etc. People’s history must reach people. We should train ‘barefoot historians’ and disseminate  historical knowledge to educate common man. ICHR should also think of offering consultancy services to the corporates, business houses, commercial concerns and can offer tailor-made projects for them, keeping in view, the varied needs of each field of commodity production, like textiles, pharmaceutics, building construction, urban development, tourism, heritage protection, education, town planning, handicrafts, cosmetics, entertainment programs, advertising, art and architecture - the list can go endless. If ICHR is allowed to work on its own unhampered by unhealthy politics, it can show that history can do wonders. In the present genre of history, politics and precisely political economy dominate and the useful and purposeful history is forgotten. Different biased schools of historiography have emerged and the real spirit of history is buried underground. 

2. Do we see a new fresh re-evaluation of the National Movement leading up to Independence and the post-Independence period emerging? People and individual leaders who have not got their due, research and books into their contributions?

ICHR has started the project on freedom movement some 3-4 decades ago. It seems that the ICHR had born only for this project. May be, the project was inspired more by the ‘Time-Capsule’ episode rather than giving a true and descriptive account of the saga of struggle. In the post independent era, ‘leftist’ or ‘Marxist’ or ‘progressivists’ were looking for legitimizing the role of Communists in the freedom struggle. They wanted to denigrate any mass movement or any mass leader and to highlight micro incident or any protest, which was not even distantly related to question of British rule. So, emerging as a distinct school, they took up this major project as an ICHR project. The project was not allotted any fixed annuities, no estimates, no separate accounts of expenditure. The same case is with other ICHR projects running for decades. These projects are treated like administrative sections of the Council, which go along with the general and compulsory expenditure.  It is also surprising that files connected to these projects are not traceable from their beginning. We cannot find any one knowledgeable person to review the progress of these projects. The present Council has taken up this review job.
The project on ‘Towards Freedom’ shows itself clearly that the advisers and compilers of this project were not willing to term it a ‘National Movement’ because of their reservations for the term ‘nationalism’. This is how the whole project had become a controversy. With this background, what would be the fate of post-independent history?

3. Also a re-orientation, re-interpretation, research into Ancient and Medieval India, which many feel is much needed? Also into what is termed as the ancient Vedic heritage?

This dominant section of historians considers what they wrote final and unalterable. Their scientific approach is only applied against other approaches. ICHR, in its four decades of existence, did not take any mega project on ancient or medieval or pre-history.

4. Are you planning to expand the scope of historical research, include scholars, researchers from other domains, disciplines to contribute and expand the horizon? A sort of cross-fertilisation of idea?

There were no distinct disciplines before the scientific revolution of 18th century. Later they grew up like watertight compartments and expanded overgrowing their optimal sizes. By the mid of last century, they were branching off into specialties. Towards close of that century the need for multi-disciplinary approach is seriously felt. Historical research is no different. It is multi-disciplinary with its sub-disciplines like archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics etc at primary level of research, other basic and applied sciences like astronomy, geology, botany, anthropology, mathematics, statistics, cosmology etc at middle or analytical level and theories and methodologies of social sciences, philosophy, literature and interpretative faculties at the final stage of presentation.

5. What do you think is the reason that ICHR remains a body so prone to controversy? Is it because questions/debates on Indian contemporary history as also the past has not been settled yet? Or because ICHR has been mostly dominated or been an exclusive club of a group of historians who have resisted others, ideas contrary to theirs?

This I have already explained at Q3.

6. In fact, they raised issues about your appointment as Chairman as well....what do you’ve to say on that?

 I have clarified this point several times during my one year in Office. My name is dragged to the fore at every issue – connected or unconnected to my work -- by those who question my credibility.  After one year of my patient waiting, can I ask for their credibility to question me?  They promoted ‘intellectual feudalism’, sorry for using their Marxist jargon, by usurping Indian History Congress (IHC) and founding the ICHR of the ‘eminent historians’ by this clan of ‘eminent historians’, for the ‘eminent historians’. The MoA of the ICHR also speaks of the ‘eminent historians’ at every place. Then, who are they?  Their democracy allows them to keep the executive of IHC in their firm grip for all time to come. They wanted that ICHR should be like a branch of IHC asking for their role to nominate ICHR members. The IHC and other like ‘professional’ bodies should play such role in the constitution of ICHR according to the report of the review committee appointed to suggest amendments to the rules and regulations of the ICHR (see the report in the ICHR website). In return, the ICHR has to give a special status to IHC in getting grants for their conferences and publications and other programs over and above the limits identified for others (see for the funding rules in the ICHR website). So they would definitely raise questions on my credibility because I do not belong to their clan of ‘eminent historians’, I am not surprised. The question of my credibility is being constantly raised by them through their numerous pseudo bodies and also through their sympathizing political party leaders. They tried enough to put the Government on defense for my appointment. The matter is also raised in the utmost legislative body of this great Nation. They got the answers quite firmly and clearly by the Government. At least now, they should mind their work of writing ‘eminent’ histories. I love to read them.

7. Are we going to see a new Editor the ICHR journal--what led to Sabyachachi Mukhrejee's departure or scrapping of the committee? A new chairperson of course has a right to choose his team members...

Prof Dilip Chakravarti will be the Chief Editor. Every new Council normally reconstitutes the committees. It is not what they describe as ‘scrapping’ but it is only reconstitution.

8. And, Gopinath Ravindran's who cited the above reasons? Your side of the story?

            I have clearly explained this issue to media only after Pof Gopinath Ravindran came         out in public stating he had resigned because he had to leave on my account.
Gopinath Ravindran had enjoyed unlimited freedom in administration, finances and academic activities. During his tenure, there was literally no Chairman for a long time before I joined and also later as I was away from Delhi due to back-bone injury for about three to four months. In all meetings of the Council or other committees, he was the lead. Even when I was totally bed-ridden he refused to postpone the committee meetings and the meeting of the general Council. In other instances like memorial lectures or foundation day celebrations of the ICHR, he freely commented not observing the minimum decency, decorum and courtesy being a host. Inspite of that, I have always been cordial to him. When he surprised me with his offer of resignation, I gave him time (not ‘no time’ as reported) to reconsider. I relieved him asking for his convenient date after following the procedure he suggested and cordially bid him farewell in a staff assembly. (Economic Times, 26June2015)

9. What promopted you to invite David Frawley for the ICHR annual day? Was his lecture a success or the controversy overshadowed the event?

As I said earlier, history writing depends on many sources, literary, archaeological and others. Nowadays Oral historical sources are also given importance. Dr David Frawley is a serious scholar of Vedic and Sastra literature. He presented a scholarly discourse on historical material from the Rgveda. It is on our website. A historian should be open minded to receive any source form anywhere. Of course, his ‘rigors’ in the terms of ‘eminent historians’, should be applied in accepting its authenticity and acceptability.

10. How do you think ICHR can and should contribute towards popularising history reading among children? For inculcating pride in the nation?

I have explained this in the beginning. In the modern system of education, children books are not published in large number. The West takes good care of the children’s education, but we have yet to pay much more attention.