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How the Murky World of The Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) Massacred Indian History and Triumphed

The establishment of the The Indian Council for Historical Research laid the foundations for the destruction of Indian history.

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

Ramesh Chandra Majumdar's banishment was only the foundation but an incredibly firm foundation. One of the first structures to be built atop this foundational void of Majumdar's marginalisation was the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR). The distinguished archaeologist, Dr DK Chakrabarti provides an illuminative explanation of how things proceeded thereafter.

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 give a national direction to an objective and scientific writing of history and to have rational presentation and interpretation of history", as the [then] website of the Indian Council of Historical Research declared. 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. When Thapar preaches in favour of historical tolerance, one does feel amused.

1972.

Precisely the year the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) was founded under the encouraging patronage of then education minister Nurul Hasan. For most of its existence ever since, it has become an expansive den of all manner of Communists actively engaged in the subversion of India's history, plagiarism, and embezzlement of taxpayer money, among other crimes. The perpetrators have not only gotten away with it thanks to the protection afforded by their political masters but continue to live their lavish lifestyles unhampered.

In fact, the crimes started less than five years after the ICHR was born.

In 1976-77, (late) Dr Paramatma Saran, a specialist and expert in Indian medieval history and a scholar of the Persian language submitted the manuscript of his English translation of Tarikh-i-Akbari by Muhammad Arif Qandhari to the ICHR.

The manuscript simply vanished.

Sometime later, as a result of Dr Saran's son-in-law's dogged inquiries, an official probe was ordered. The result of the probe was declared by the then deputy director of the Medieval Unit of the ICHR Tasneem Ahmad: the manuscript was "submitted but not traceable."

About 25 years later, the same manuscript - word to word - resurfaced in the form of a PhD thesis submitted by the selfsame Tasneem Ahmad. The foreword to the thesis showered generous praises:

What it [Tarikh-i-Akbari] needed was a full-scale English translation. This has been provided by Dr Tasneem Ahmad in a very competent manner, aiming at faithful accuracy and at a critical assessment of the information here received by comparing it with that offered by other sources…[it is a] notable contribution to the national celebration of the 450th anniversary of Akbar's birth. I feel confident that it would reinforce the interest in Akbar's age widespread among those who have a care for the long process of the creation of a composite culture and a unity that together constitute what is India.

The author of the foreword: Prof Irfan Habib. The same Irfan Habib who, in 2015 equated the RSS with the ISIS. What also needs to be told is the fact that Prof Habib was twice the chairman of the ICHR and five times its member.

However, the ugly truth remains: Dr Tasneem Ahmad was awarded a PhD for a work he had stolen - there's no polite way of saying this. To my knowledge, it doesn't appear that he has been punished for it by the law. And Dr Paramatma Saran has been dead for a long time.

A Black Hole of National Waste

It's now time to recall that I had mentioned two important points "that have a huge bearing" in my recounting of the R.C. Majumdar saga.

First, his record-time publication of the definitive volumes narrating the factual history of Indian freedom struggle and second, the timeline of the publication of the same project entrusted by Nehru’s government to Tara Chand.

In 1972, the year ICHR was established, the government funded Towards Freedom, an ambitious project to (sic) document - yet again - the Indian freedom struggle in nine volumes. This project is as old as the ICHR itself and remained unfinished after forty-three years after which it was finally, deservedly shuttered. Some excerpts from the excellent and detailed July 16, 2015 news report will suffice to convey the extent of venality and loot of public money:

Have you ever heard of any government spending almost 40 lakh on a book? Or a book project going on for 43 years, and counting, with crores of rupees spent on it? All this and more has been happening at the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), an autonomous academic body funded by the government of India. It spends liberally to produce books in the name of 'Special Research Projects'. And these special research projects, which should be wrapped up within a few years for only a few lakhs of rupees, drag on for decades and bleed taxpayers of crores. Among the defaulting historians are the late Bipan Chandra, Irfan Habib and KM Shrimali. Prof Chandra, a formidable scholar of modern Indian history, is the sole reason why the 'Towards Freedom' project, which started in 1972, is still continuing. The ICHR's oldest, costliest and the most controversial project continues to bleed the public exchequer. It provoked Arun Shourie to write "Eminent Historians" in 1998, and he accused ICHR of spending 1.70 crore on the project. […] As for [Irfan] Habib and Shrimali, they have not submitted a single manuscript for the 'Dictionary of Social, Economic and Administrative Terms in Indian/South Asian Inscriptions' project, which was started in 1989... This project has so far soaked up more than 42 lakh. […] Shrimali has not produced a single volume to date. All he has to show for all these years is a few thousand computerised cards compiled by hired assistants who get paid by ICHR… Habib's record is worse. If the annual reports are to be believed, he has been promising to submit his manuscript since 2006-07… When Mail Today enquired about the stage of Prof Habib's work, the ICHR informed that "Habib saab has excused himself from this project".

Irfan Habib
Irfan Habib

The sheer magnitude of self-righteousness of Irfan Habib induces paroxysms of outrage in the conscience of anybody committed to our national interest: instead of being accountable, the lofty professor has chosen to "excuse himself," like the disgraced Lift Intellectual Tarun Tejpal "recusing" himself after trying to molest his own protégé.

Towards Freedom appears to be that mammoth ICHR udder that has provided a seemingly unending supply of the milk of political patronage, pelf, and wealth to the Communist worthies at ICHR. As the aforementioned news report indicates, no one in the ICHR seems to have the remotest idea of exactly how much this project has sucked: it is truly the black hole of national waste.

Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line and Their Fraud

Indeed, whatever I've mentioned about the ICHR's sordid record owes entirely to exactly one expose by Arun Shourie, the classic Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud published in 1998. To quote from the late N.S. Rajaram's review of the book,

Eminent Historians makes for depressing reading. It leaves one wondering as to what must be stirring in the minds and souls of these "eminent historians", to make them sink to such depths of intellectual and moral degradation as would place them in the company of Lysenko and Goebbels… their disloyalty to the nation and the culture that has sustained and nourished them, and without which they would be nothing. Unlike Indian scientists and technologists who are recognised everywhere, in the world of humanities, these "eminent historians" are utter nonentities, little more than crooked reflections of colonial stereotypes.

When Shourie exposed the shocking skullduggery in the Towards Freedom project in comprehensive detail, here was his estimate of the wastage and criminal swindling of public money back then.

… a project which was to have been completed in five years and a few lakhs has been dragged for twenty-seven years, a crore and seventy-odd lakhs have been gobbled up in its name - and the volumes are still said to be on their way. This is gross dereliction - independent of what the volumes will contain, and what they would have left out.

One can only calculate the further wastage for the balance period from 1998 to now, given that it has still remained incomplete. And then there's the minor matter of pilferage of taxpayer money. Again, we can turn to Shourie for just one representative sample in the person of Bipan Chandra. Here's how it panned out:

This eminent historian was sanctioned Rs 75,000 for the year 1987-88 for the assignment entitled "A History of the Indian National Congress". By 1989, he had been given Rs 57,500 with the balance (Rs 17,500) to be paid after the completed manuscript was submitted. He did not receive the balance due because he never cared to submit any manuscript. Upon inquiry, Shourie was told by the ICHR that the remaining balance is yet to be received because a "formal manuscript in this regard is yet to be received".

However, the story still doesn't end here.

To be continued

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