Tarikh-i-Habibi: I was Sure he Would Stab me at the First Opportunity: K.K. Muhammed
History Vignettes

Tarikh-i-Habibi: I was Sure he Would Stab me at the First Opportunity: K.K. Muhammed

An exposition on the career of Marxist historian Irfan Habib from the early days

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

Summary

With the grace of the Almighty Allah and the boundless compassion of His Most Merciful Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him), we are greatly pleased to report that our pen has been endowed with renewed strength to present the second part of the partial chronicle of His Excellency, the most exalted Marxist record-keeper and the brilliant whitewasher of all the pious deeds that Islam undertook in this land of infidels, Hindustan: Irfan Habib bin Mohammed Habib.

The element that jumps out at you akin to an ugly visual daub when you study Irfan Habib bin Mohammed Habib’s sorry excuse for a career as a historian eerily resembles the model of almost all sultans and nawabs. Aurangzeb furnishes the prime example of this model in the manner in which he captured, sustained and retained political power: nothing was low enough. Aurangzeb actively hunted down every single ethic, scruple, virtue, and propriety and annihilated it in strict adherence to the pious guidance laid down in a desert about one thousand years before he became the sultan. Of course, Irfan Habib lives in a vastly changed time but some impulses are incurable. The quiet and highly understated scholar of history, J.K. encapsulates Irfan Habib’s rancid career in his inimitable fashion by citing the example of the renowned archeologist K.K. Muhammed’s damning revelations about Habib in his autobiography, I, an Indian.

After working both at Aligarh Muslim University and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in various designations, K K Muhammed…learned how a historian becomes secular. In the foreword of the book, Prof M G S Narayanan, too writes about Prof. Habib. According to Prof. MGS, Prof. Habib has poisoned, not just history, but culture and social life by his narrow groupism, nepotism and treachery. At the same time, he writes that Prof. Habib is a hard working person, but crafty. His group would threaten, cheat and would be part of various intrigues. Anyone who criticized this group would be branded a Hindutvavaadi and communalist… Prof. MGS attributes this group for making Babri Masjid a national issue. According to Muhammed, it was during the Babri Masjid time that his mask of secularism came off. As the head of a government body (ICHR), he should not have taken sides in the dispute. People saw this as an effort to to increase his influence by taking sides with the Muslim side in the dispute. Another encounter he mentions, occurred in front of an interview panel consisting of among others, the Vice Chancellor and Habib. During the interview, the Vice Chancellor said he could not consider anyone for AMU, who did not respect Prof. Habib. Muhammed replied that respect has to be earned not demanded…Another case was when someone with less marks and no Post-Graduate diploma was given the post of Asst. Archaeologist instead of him. Muhammed also had evidence against a false accusation that Irfan Habib had made. While Muhammed said all of this, Irfan Habib sat with his eyes down. Muhammed, writes, “I was sure he would stab me at the first opportunity.”
K.K. Muhammed

Four Phases of a Long Career

In the historical scheme of things—pun unintended—K.K. Muhammed’s book is at least forty years too late. As I don’t tire of repeating, alleged historians like Irfan Habib have had a glorious free run and continue to remain unpunished for their encyclopaedic list of sins against three generations of Indian children. Exposes like that of K.K. Muhammed would’ve perhaps had greater impact had they been published when the likes of Irfan Habib were at the peak of their nation-wrecking power. The fact that they weren’t published back then in and by itself reveals the frightening extent of the lethal power they wielded over institutions. Even a comprehensive dénouement like Arun Shourie’s classic Eminent Historians, even today, is largely praised for its scandal value than as a much-needed manual cum guidebook for an all-out cleanup of the HRD ministry itself. At the very least, the HRD ministry should be split up into four distinct units and subject to a rigorous fat-burning regimen to reincarnate as a lean, mean, shredded, and highly optimal system of functioning.

K.K. Muhammed
K.K. Muhammed

Our research into the long and highly toxic career of Irfan Habib, the alleged scholar of history, affords us to divide it into four broad and distinct phases.

The first comprises his early years and rise to power in the history establishment as the worthy son of “whitewasher” Mohammed Habib at the Aligarh Muslim University.

The second involves his numerous stints as the Chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), a role he performed with the acumen of a medieval Muslim tyrant.

The third is the society-wrecking part he played during the Ayodhya years.

The fourth is his unclothed emergence as slightly better than a street thug when he tried to physically prevent Kerala Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan from speaking at a public function. On the dais, no less.

The Oxford Training of a Historian

Irfan Habib earned his spurs as a scholar of Mughal history with the publication of his The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556–1707 in 1963. In itself, while the book is well-researched, it follows the selfsame model of the Shell and the Core laid down by his father, Mohammed Habib. It was also a tangential attack against and ploy to completely erase the original and irreplaceable contribution of Jadunath Sarkar. Prof Dipesh Chakrabarty describes the vile tactic in his typical academic tone as follows.

But more than his rejection of specific sources used by [Jadunath] Sarkar, it was the themes that Habib worked on that signaled the remarkable shift in historiography…Habib was avowedly Marxist—his very last footnote in the book is a reference to the Selected Works of Mao Zedong. He was “secular” (in the Indian sense of the word)…he sought the causes of Mughal decline in a revenue crisis of the empire.
…perhaps the most magisterial dismissal of Sarkar came in the form of Irfan Habib’s 1958 doctoral thesis from Oxford…”The Agrarian System of Mughal India…” which played a key role in displacing Sarkar from the canon. Habib wrote about the “agrarian crisis” that plagued the Mughal Empire and contributed to its “destruction” but he did so without any reference to Sarkar’s propositions…as if the volumes did not exist for Habib. Sarkar features rarely in Habib’s book. No mention of him is to be found in the original preface, dated Aligarh, August 1962.
Prof Dipesh Chakrabarty

Not mentioning Jadunath Sarkar’s name in the context of Mughal history is akin to omitting the name of Bhagavan Veda Vyasa while writing about the Mahabharata or that of Maharshi Valmiki in the context of the Ramayana. Yet, not only did Irfan Habib get away with it, he was actually rewarded and promoted for it. Small wonder that we live in an India where Sri Ramachandra is a misogynist and Sri Krishna is a warmonger.

But there is also an oblique backstory to Irfan Habib’s years as a student at Oxford. This story is narrated by the other well-known Indian historian Tapan Raychaudhuri who earned a second doctoral degree at the same university. In his own words:

The university made no other formal provision for the instruction of graduate students working on Indian history beyond appointing a supervisor…Dr. C.C. Davis, once a Major in the Indian army, [who] supervised all students working for research degrees on Indian history irrespective of subject or period. Irfan Habib who worked on the agrarian history of the Mughal period…were all his supervisees.
Tapan Raychaudhuri

To repeat the obvious, Irfan Habib was awarded his doctoral degree by a colonial supervisor who, putting it mildly, was unqualified to even judge the work of his minion much less guide him in his chosen field of research. There you have. A former army Major supervising a specialized academic research, an eerie coming alive of Thucydides’ prophecy that

A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.
Thucydides [Attrib]

Truthful History Ensures Civilisational Continuity

But speaking objectively, after India attained “independence,” these colonial scholars (in this case, a former army man of the British Raj) became the mentors of Indian students wanting to study the history of their own country. Indeed, the Raj’s grip on the psyche of its former colonial subjects remained firm as ever, and as we survey the field of Indian history research even today, this master-subject status has not only endured but has swallowed and spat out generations of culturally-impaired Hindus who celebrate their inferiority complex by spitting on fellow Hindus who are still rooted. One is reminded of a line that Stalin’s slave, Otto Katz told Arthur Koestler:

We all have inferiority complexes of various sizes, but yours isn’t a complex—it’s a cathedral.
Otto Katz

This applies one hundred percent to a range of deracinated Hindu nonentities that includes the likes of Romila Thapar, Meera Nanda, and Ramachandra Guha whose proudest transgenerational creations are Kanhaiya Kumar and Swara Bhaskar among other culturally-stunted kids.

But back to Irfan Habib, his new “model” of historiography was among other contributors to the nasty national project of rehabilitating and anointing the Islamic zealot Aurangzeb as St. Aurangzeb. This video is a small sample of the real-life consequences of said anointment: a Mullah-type gentleman declaring openly on television that “Aurangzeb hamara hero hai.” This would have been unimaginable even twenty-five years ago. Indeed, the trajectory of whitewashing > distortion>rehabilitation>justification>celebration of the worst mass-murderers and religious bigots in history has been rather swift in the last seventy years.

See why history-writing is so vital to national health, societal well-being, and civilisational continuity?

To be continued

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