The origins of how our Marxists acquired a stranglehold on the academia, institutions and specifically history writing roughly began in the 1960s. Their claim of writing Indian history anew can be traced roughly to the November 1962 issue of the prestigious journal Seminar entitled Past and Present. Here, we find for the first time a systematic presentation of the debate on the subject. It contained very cogent thoughts of famous historians, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar (1888-1980), K.M. Panikkar (1895-1963), at the time the Vice Chancellor of the Jammu and Kashmir University, and K.A. Nilakanta Sastri (1892-1975). Also included are essays by S. Gopal, then an officer in the Ministry of External Affairs, Irfan Habib, a lecturer in Aligarh Muslim University, and Romila Thapar, a reader in the Kurukshetra University.
The issue of history rewriting was introduced by Romila Thapar where she accepted the periodisation of Indian history as a central issue and proposed to change it. Interestingly, she maintained that so far, Indian historians were under the influence of the Greek history-writing tradition. Surprisingly no Marxist historian said so afterwards. Not even Thapar herself. Romila Thapar alternatively proposed the Marxist formula prescribing periodisation according to changes in the system of economic production. Additionally she raised a common Marxist rhetoric:
Thirdly she argued that history writing should depend less on literary sources. Instead anthropological and sociological studies should be more depended upon. She was most concerned to assess “the significance of customs such sati, or movements such as thugee”. To understand history, according to her, private papers of families (which ones?), oral traditions and records of village panchayat papers should also be used.
The article clearly reveals that young Romila Thapar has not presented any work on her own on the basis of which she could demonstrate the superiority of using her proposed sources over the traditional sources. All her claims seemed to emanate from conjectures, guesswork and preconceived political blind-belief. Otherwise how can it be hoped to get different results for history writing by merely raising questions, without considering if at all obtaining answers are possible as in the case of ‘what a chariot-driver or elephant-keeper thought’ about emperor Ashoka’s edicts? Besides, how can one inspire to search for answers to such rhetorical questions until the question raiser herself had not produced any research on such original lines?
Another interesting aspect in her presentation was that reference to Indian historians excluded Muslim historians. Her reasoning?
Very interesting indeed! But what does she mean by an Arabic tradition? Doesn't it convey that the Muslim mind in India had a non-Indian, non-national stream of scholarship, more attached to the Arab imperialist mind set? It must be noted that Romila Thapar did not refute the situation. She, in fact, confirms it by excluding ‘Muslim historians’ among ‘Indian historians’. The other point to note is that in later years, we never find such affirmation by the Marxist historians. The fact, obviously, was a great hurdle to create a myth of ‘composite culture made during the Mughal period’. And so it was buried silently.
Then again, did the ‘Arabic tradition’ refer to a style of writing history or an Arab-centred psyche that operated while writing Indian history? It is not clear what Thapar herself meant on this point and why she did not include Muslim historians. As was seen in the decades to come, Romila Thapar and other Marxist historians have always steered clear of the primary texts of history written by medieval Muslim historians. So much so that when Marxist historians survey the Indian writing of history[i], they never include Muslim historians even there. Was it because their analysis did not conform to Marxist line of history writing?
Another Communist Party line holds there was no period called the Muslim period in the history of India, and therefore, there were no oppression of Hindus in the mediaeval (Muslim) period, and ‘communalism’ is a modern concept which did not exist during this period and further, that the Muslim rulers were not foreign! There is every reason to suspect this line because if we take into account the early twentieth century and earlier writing by Indian Muslim historians and scholars, the Marxist line of presenting Indian history stands shattered.
This is the ‘reason’ why Marxist historians totally ignore accounts of the medieval Muslim historians and discourage discussing them. Although the account of mediaeval history by Muslim historians can be more authentic because of the very ‘Arabic tradition’ as they have covered the original, Persian and Arabic, sources for their writings. Since Persian and Arabic were official languages over a large part of India during the Muslim period, it follows that authentic records were available on a large scale in those records.
However the Seminar issue fooled no one back then. It will still the era when towering historians like Ramesh Chandra Majumdar and others existed. In a swift and brutal stroke of his pen, he thoroughly demolished the Marxist alliance of falsification let loose by Romila Thapar and her gang as we shall examine in the next part.
To be continued
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