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CLOSE IT DOWN

There are some institutions in India which, for no apparent reason, have immortality thrust upon them. They thus acquire a larger-than-life importance. One such institution is the Indian Council for Historical Research. Since its inception, every government, whatever its political orientation, has tried to control it and put in its own loyalists to give it direction. This haste of governments, including the present one, to control what, in terms of funding and control of patronage, is a minor institution can perhaps be interpreted as a sign of the importance that governments give to the writing of history. This might be flattering to some historians, but serious practitioners of the historian’s craft would like it to be free from the control of the State and the government. There is no denying that the ICHR was formed to give to the writing of history a certain orientation. It was the brainchild of S. Nurul Hasan, who could have been a good historian had he not sold himself to politics. Hasan wanted the writing of Indian history to be “scientific and secular’’. This banner inevitably drew under it historians of Marxist orientation and alienated those who did not accept that ideological slant.

What is most surprising, however, is the fact that whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power — and the BJP sees itself as being against “scientific and secular’’ history — it has never challenged the very existence of a body like the ICHR. On the contrary, the BJP, like the Congress and its claque of so-called Marxist historians, has tried to control the ICHR and to introduce its own version of Indian history. This would suggest that the ideological opponents in the writing of history are fundamentally not opposed since both groups believe that the State should have a role, if not a decisive role, in historical research. It does not occur to the Marxists and their fellow travellers or to the proponents of Hindutva that historians, to write at their best without fear and prejudice, should be left free of the influence and interference of the State and, therefore, of the ruling political dispensation. The current controversy over the new chairman of the ICHR — whether he is a good historian or at all a historian — is thus a remarkably silly one. The ICHR should just be shut down and historians left free to write their books (including text books). Indian readers of history are mature enough to reject bad history and badly written history. The ICHR is a relic.