The Romila Thapar Saga: All the Oxygen of the World Won’t Revive a Fossil

Commentary on the recent backlash against the India International Centre inviting Romila Thapar for a lecture.
The Romila Thapar Saga: All the Oxygen of the World Won’t Revive a Fossil

AT THE OUTSET, let’s take two random quotes and examine each at some length.  

The first is by Dr. Saletore, one of the giants of Indian historical scholarship. Speaking at the Karnatak University, Dharwad in 1957, this is what he said: 

…the range and depth of the study of Ancient Indian History has been so perceptibly widened as to cause bewilderment to scholars. This is a fact which has to borne in mind in our estimate of a study of Ancient Indian History… it is an indispensable qualification of historical scholarship that the investigator should be aware of the insurmountable difficulties facing him and of the unknown prospects of being led to the unfathomable depths of his study. But unfortunately in this sphere, A GOOD DEAL OF LOOSE TALK BY RESPONSIBLE PERSONS HAS MADE THE TASK OF THE HISTORIAN MORE ONEROUS. Ancient Indian History is supposed to refer to some insignificant personalities of the past, while Ancient Indian Culture is assumed to connote one or two emotional items…The former is fit for study only by students in academic institutions, while the latter is a coveted field which can be covered only by officials. THIS NOVEL CONCEPT…HAS NOT HELPED THE CAUSE OF EITHER HISTORY OR CULTURE… To the above difficulties is added … the zeal with which scholars have taken to re-writing Indian History. It must be confessed that the history of India as we now possess it is neither complete nor adequate… But the popular trend is not so much to either discover new facts or to re-assess old ones impartially as to re-write Indian History according to some preconceived notions.

Capitalisation Added

Dr. Saletore was among the last stalwarts of the glorious scholarly tribe that belonged to the golden era of the Modern Indian Renaissance. What he saw around him in 1957 — just a decade after India attained a questionable independence — profoundly alarmed him. The Marxists were infiltrating the academic — specifically, the history establishment, in a systematic fashion though it would take them more than a decade to entrench themselves almost permanently.  But Dr. Saletore was concerned more with the attitude and approach to studying and writing Indian History. He was one of the most distinguished eyewitnesses to the cold-blooded plot to slaughter Indian History at the altar of political ideology. 

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Sure enough, Dr. Saletore’s prophecy rang true but the truth was broadcast more than three decades later most notably in Arun Shourie’s path-breaking Eminent Historians. A few more years later, India’s eminent archeologist and historical scholar, Dr. D.K. Chakrabarti thundered, 

I find Romila Thapar’s emphasis on ‘freedom of expression’ very intriguing. The historical group of which Thapar is an eminent member came into being in the early 1970s…To argue that there was no “objective and scientific writing of history” till this group moved into government-sponsored power to control the funding and job-opportunities of historical research in India was distinctly reminiscent of a dictatorial streak in itself. By then historical research in the country had flourished for about a century and to argue that the previous historians were unaware of ‘objective and scientific writing of history’ was a vicious piece of self-aggrandisement on the part of this group. In fact, SINCE THE COMING OF THIS GROUP TO POWER, THE WORLD OF INDIAN HISTORICAL STUDIES HAS BEEN LARGELY CRIMINALISED.  

The massive wave of national outrage that preceded and followed the wake of Romila Thapar’s recent lecture at India International Centre, Delhi, must be contextualised in the light of Dr. Chakrabarti’s observation of generational criminality perpetrated by her ilk. It is actually a twofold crime. 

The first is the manner in which Romila Thapar’s cabal disfigured the psyche of at least three generations of Indians by poisoning Indian history. The “history” that her academic goon squad wrote is still the raw material that crazed Mullahs dip into for defending Aurangzeb’s demolition of the Kashi Visvanath Temple on live TV.   

The second crime is how her gang abused their powerful official positions to brazenly steal taxpayer money. And escaped unpunished. 

The detailed story of both these and other crimes is narrated in the chapter titled The Rise and Fall of History Research in India in my book, 70 Years of Secularism.

HOWEVER, THE HAPPY OUTCOME is the fact that Romila Thapar & Co became irrelevant in their own lifetimes. They met their Waterloo at Ayodhya. In a way, they had invited their own doom. Their reckless and prolonged falsification of our history stood on the sand-pillar of confidence that lulled them to believe that their political patronage and protection would last forever. 

Over the last decade at least, the Left has almost totally given up writing history or engaging in historical research. A tangential proof for this lies in a straightforward question: how many in the contemporary Left ecosystem openly identify themselves as Marxists? Likewise, the current generation of Romila Thapar’s “intellectual” and academic spawn has been reduced to picking up random sentences and slogans from those old Marxist pamphlets and quoting them selectively — whether the context demands it or no. Their plight can best be described using a familiar Kannada idiom: ಆಯ್ಕೊಂಡ್ ತಿನ್ನು.   

ROMILA THAPAR IS BY NO MEANS the worst of the lot of Marxist distorians. Perhaps she is. There is no real way of knowing because the competition for Distortionist #1 is pretty severe. But she is certainly the most high-profile distortionist for several reasons. 

I can think of her clan’s proximity to the Nehru clan as a highly prominent reason. The progenitor of her clan, Kunj Behari Thapar was a huge beneficiary of British largesse. Post independence, several members of the Thapar lineage transferred their loyalty to the Nehru dynasty. One descendant, Gautam Sehgal was married to Nayantara Sehgal, Nawab Nehru’s grand-niece. The Thapar clan is also related by marriage to the clan of another Nehru-courtier, Khushwant Singh. 

The second: compared to other members of the Marxist academic goon squad, Romila has hogged more limelight. For example, an Irfan Habib has arguably inflicted far worse damage upon Indian history but he ran his shindigs by largely staying in the background. We had to wait till 2019-20 when the eminent archeologist K.K. Muhammad made this explosive revelation that “I was sure Irfan Habib would stab me at the first opportunity.”  

The third is Romila’s lifelong commitment to the genocidal Communist ideology. Her distortion of Indian history was motivated by her unswerving devotion to Marxism. Like the brainwashed Jihadi who actually believes that 72 succulent, young virgins are awaiting his triumphant entry into Jannat. Romila was a True Believer who eventually became a failed Marxist Ghazi

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TO USE AN OVERARCHING TERM, ROMILA THAPAR HAS BECOME A FOSSIL. As such, she represents a fine model to study a generational malaise which became a deadly phenomenon. The malaise has been largely defanged and controlled but it exists which is why we must study it seriously. There are three major dimensions to this in our own time. 

The first is her gang’s sinister role in thoroughly destroying mainstream research in Indian history —  in universities and public and private academic bodies. Broadly speaking, these institutions have proven to be inept at producing original research in any area of Indian history. Much of the good work in Indian history in recent years have emerged from outside the formal academic establishment — by so-called “amateur” historians and “independent” scholars. 

The second is the undue importance given in public discourse to such fossils long past their expiry date. In the annals of the so-called right wing and pro-Hindu activism, perhaps only Romila Thapar’s name evokes the kind of predictable and instant fury which is generally reserved for the Nehru dynasty. While the impulse behind this outrage is understandable and entirely valid, it is largely unproductive and therefore a waste of time. All the oxygen of the world will not breathe life into a fossil. As a random example, look at Ramachandra Guha, Romila’s younger contemporary. He has long ago abandoned the Romila Thapar lorry of irrelevance and has latched on to a bunch of youthful lumpens like Kanhaiya Kumar.

Which brings us to the final point. About the India International Centre, the venue of Romila’s recent lecture. Its founding spirit was foreign. Only the structure and people were colonised Indians. It received generous funding from the Ford and the Rockefeller Foundations. Its architect was Joseph Allen Stein, an American especially imported by the diehard anti-capitalist and anti-American, Nawab Nehru. For some time, the area around the IIC was known as Steinabad — the ‘bad’ suffix, distinctively of Muslim origin. Romila Thapar’s brother, Romesh Thapar served as the director of the IIC during Indira Gandhi’s regime. This is the kind of historical and deep-rooted clout that Romila exercises at IIC. This is the same institution that denied membership to someone like Lalu Prasad Yadav when he was Railway Minister. Its current crop of trustees and various council members include avowed Narendra Modi-haters like Ashis Nandy (who famously described Modi as a clinical case of fascism), Ashok Vajpeyi (eminent member of the Award Wapsi gang), Zoya Hasan, and Nandita Das among others. Lakshya, the extended sleep opera released in 2004 shows the socialite wife of the high-profile Delhi businessman Boman Irani extolling the glory of the IIC in a brief dialogue. The movie was scripted and had its screenplay written by Javed Akhtar, one of the beneficiaries of the Lutyens largesse, and his son directed the movie. Needless, IIC was — and remains — one of the major watering holes of the generational parasites of Lutyens Delhi habituated to feeding off taxpayer money. They aren’t in a hurry to relinquish their inherited privilege via freeloading. 

IN THE RECENT CASE OF ROMILA THAPAR’S LECTURE AT IIC, the severe public backlash resulted in her event getting police security. The analysis of this outcome doesn’t fall in the purview of this piece. By way of fair disclosure, it has to be mentioned that the IIC had cancelled my colloquium on the Moplah genocide of Hindus scheduled in 2021 at the invitation of a IIC member, Sri Daksh Lohiya. My reaction was and remains one of amusement. I would’ve been surprised if the IIC had not cancelled it… not because of my lecture per se but because it was entirely consistent with the IIC’s track record on such topics. Enough said. 

Finally, the root of the problem is neither the IIC nor Romila Thapar but the psyche and mindset that birthed it and the familiar ecosystem that it is part of. On the larger canvas of history and culture and our national life, that psyche became irrelevant with the fall of the disputed structure in Ayodhya. A degenerate political and ideological manoeuvring had put it on the ventilator for the subsequent two decades. We’re living in an era in which the plug has been pulled off the ventilator. In reality, invitations to Romila Thapar and hosting similar events at places like the IIC are the public echoes of the terminal sighs of this psyche.

Postscript 

PROTESTS AGAINST SUCH LECTURES might or not lead to anticipated outcomes but fury should be tempered by perspective. In this case, the perspective is one of irrelevance and fossilisation. Look at a Rahul Gandhi who has perhaps been advised that growing a chest-length beard is the sole qualification to become Karl Marx.

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