'Bias' barb fired at historians

NDA nominee accuses Ram Guha, Sugata Bose of distorting facts

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 24.06.15

New Delhi, June 23: An NDA government-appointed member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has accused Ramachandra Guha and other eminent historians of presenting history in a distorted manner in NCERT textbooks.

ICHR member Saradindu Mukherji has cited a chapter, Mahatma Gandhi and the Nationalist Movement, Civil Disobedience and Beyond, in a Class XII history textbook that was contributed by Guha. The book was written in 2007.

Mukherji has also taken a swipe at Harvard University faculty member Sugata Bose, alleging "bias" in his book His Majesty's Opponent - Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle against Empire (2011).

Both Guha and Bose have been vocal against the appointment of historians sympathetic to the Sangh parivar's ideology as members of the ICHR by the Narendra Modi government.

In an article published on indiafacts.co.in, Mukherji has asked for an explanation from Hari Vasudevan, chairperson of the textbook development committee, and Neeladri Bhattacharya, chief adviser to the committee.

Mukherji said the chapter in the NCERT book begins with Gandhi's arrival in India in 1915 but does not explain the factors leading to the emergence of pan-Indian nationalism and the crucial role of the Moderates. The previous chapter on "Colonial Cities" has no reference to the emergence of nationalism. The children miss out on the basic ideas of the formative period of pan-Indian nationalism, he said.

The Lal-Bal-Pal trio have been disposed of in two sentences without even a mention of Sri Aurobindo, Mukherji said, complaining that there is nothing on the revolutionaries who had taken up arms to oust the British. The chapter has nothing on the Partition of Bengal, Swadeshi/ anti-Partition movement, he added. The Khilafat Movement is covered in a box, "fully sanitised", he claimed.

According to the NCERT textbook, the Khilafat Movement (1919-1920) was a movement of Indian Muslims, led by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, that demanded the Turkish Sultan or Khalifa must retain control over the Muslim sacred places in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. The Congress supported the movement and Gandhi had sought to tie it to the non-cooperation movement.

"Whether by sheer ignorance or deliberate design, the learned historian does not explain that... by supporting Khilafat... Gandhi was actually interfering in the affairs of another nation," Mukherji wrote.

Mukherji accused Guha of putting Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the same pedestal as Gandhi and criticised his description of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi, as a Brahmin from Pune and a "bigoted Hindu".

"Was the mention of Godse's caste really called for?... By the same token, Jinnah also needs to be described as a second generation convert to Islam and that his grandfather was a Hindu," Mukherji said.

Mukherji disapproved of Sugata Bose's assertion that Subhas Chandra Bose was killed in an air crash on August 18,1945.

"As we all know that the air crash never happened. We all know why some people wanted to see Netaji dead earlier than it actually happened," Mukherji wrote.

Guha chose not to react to Mukherji's comments. "I have no comment," he said, when contacted over the phone.

Despite efforts, Bose and Bhattacharya could not be reached for comment.

However, Vasudevan defended the NCERT book, saying all efforts were made to ensure that any personal bias of the authors did not get reflected in the chapters.

"The NCERT in 2006-07 moved away from its earlier practice of asking one person to write a book," he said. "One person writes a draft chapter which is examined by the advisory committee of about 15 experts. Then the book is placed before the national monitoring committee," he said.

On the points raised by Mukherji, he said modern India has been covered in history textbooks for other classes too.

"Is Dr Mukherji certain that the issues excluded in this chapter have not been covered in the history textbooks for other classes? For example, the book for Class VIII has details on modern India and the revolutionaries who took part in the freedom struggle," he said.

Vasudevan questioned Mukherji for raising the issue eight years after the book was published. "He should have brought up this matter at that time," he said, adding that the exercise was more comprehensive.

But Mukherji said students studying history in Class XII pursue the subject in college and the book should be comprehensive and more substantive. "There is no point raising an issue if it is not getting attention," Mukherji added.