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Tarikh-i-Habibi: Institutional Ruffianism of the Clique of Seven at the ICHR
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Tarikh-i-Habibi: Institutional Ruffianism of the Clique of Seven at the ICHR

An essay recounting the manner in which the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) was transformed into a club of nepotism

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna


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 mind has been made pleasant by prayers to the benevolent Nabi to continue 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.

When the decade of the 1970s dawned, Irfan Habib and his Aligarh gang had succeeded in erasing the name of Jadunath Sarkar beyond their wildest imagination. One of the tactics that this gang employed in this deplorable project was to condemn and abuse Sarkar’s works publicly but to never put their calumny in print. This was a device they had learned from the ultra-Aurangzeb-apologist, Shafaat Ahmad Khan, the founder of the history department at the Allahabad University. The dirty journey from traducing Sarkar’s pioneering, original, and awe-inspiring body of work on Mughal history to resorting to cheap name-calling was as swift as it was brutal the moment Irfan Habib Inc established their supremacy at Aligarh. Jadunath Sarkar was now merely a “Hindu communalist.” His books all but disappeared from the curriculum, reading lists and libraries. Romila Thapar was busy getting fast-tracked to the position of a czarina of Indian history. For a real-life account of the political intrigues and the laparotomy that these generational slaves of Karl Marx performed on the sacred calling of history, I refer the gentle reader to two brilliant episodes by Dr. S.L Bhyrappa: (i) His firsthand encounter with Indira Gandhi’s doormat, the bureaucrat Parthasarathi (ii) The sledgehammer-like climax in Aavarana.

In many ways, the history department of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was akin to Irfan Habib’s personal Jagir, a legacy bequeathed by his father, the trailblazing distorian and pioneering whitewasher of pious crimes, Mohammed Habib. We get a measure of Irfan Habib’s Stalinesque grip over AMU when we read K.K. Muhammed’s revelation that no less than its vice chancellor said openly in an interview that “he could not consider anyone for AMU, who did not respect Prof. Habib.”

The Staggering Loot of Taxpayer Money at ICHR

But the true extent of Irfan Habib’s naked usufructuary and barely-concealed bigotry is revealed during the period that he was Chairman of the ICHR. His multiple tenures at the ICHR are marked by two prominent themes: institutional ruffianism, financial shenanigans, and pro-Babri masjid pamphleteering. Both merit separate examination in some detail.

For the former, this nation owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Arun Shourie’s Eminent Historians, a model work for writing exposés of this nature. Let’s take a few random examples that show the picture clearly.

A view from the mountaintop reveals the fact that governmental bodies like the ICHR, by design, had been transformed into brothels of nepotism. Translated in real life, this meant that a closely-knit cabal of academics had absolute monopoly and control over appointments, promotions, transfers, and grants. Forget criticism, even a murmur of disapproval about even one of them would prove fatal to academic careers. Stories would be planted in friendly media houses. Rumours would be spread. All of which would invariably carry that deadly refrain: Hindutva communalist. RSS agent. I call this nepotistic club as the Clique of Seven. Here are their names in no particular order: Romila Thapar, Sarvepalli Gopal, Irfan Habib, K.M. Shrimali, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra.

Roughly since its establishment, various decision-making positions at the ICHR were dominated by Marxist pamphleteers masquerading as historians for twenty-five years. Here are some concrete numbers and names of those who were on the Council:

Romila Thapar: four times

Irfan Habib: five times (two times Chairman)

Satish Chandra: four times

S. Gopal: three times

Let’s take another example. In 1992, an ambitious project, which the ICHR records as a “major project” was begun.

Name: Project on Documentation of Economic History

Scope: Seventeen volumes

Timeline: Five years: 1992-1997

Estimated cost: Twenty-five lakhs

Outcome: As of 1998, nineteen lakhs had been spent and not a single volume had been published.

Chairman of the ICHR in 1992: Irfan Habib

Next example.

Project Name: Medieval Sources. Here is what Arun Shourie found in his investigation.

…the ICHR supplied the following list of the scholars to whom the work was assigned, the subject each was to cover, the money sanctioned, and the result: Satish Chandra & co: Hindi translation of “Early Sources of Akbar’s Reign”; Not completed, money not indicated. Irfan Habib: Akhbarat-e-Aurangzeb: ₹ 27,000/-; Not completed
Arun Shourie

The list goes on with the predictable sickening outcome.

Then there was a proposal to translate R.C. Majumdar’s magnificent volumes of The History and Culture of the Indian People. As expected, the proposal was rejected. But there was money to be made. And so, the saliva-oozing eminent historians suggested alternatives. The translation project would go on but they would select the “suitable” titles. And they did. In an act of divine intervention, the maximum number of titles they selected were the books they had themselves authored. Here again, are some numbers.

R.S. Sharma (a former ICHR Chairman): Five titles

Sarvepalli Gopal: Three

Romila Thapar: Three

Bipan Chandra: Two

Irfan Habib: Two

Mohammed Habib: Two

Satish Chandra: One

Total money allocated: ₹ 41,89,000/-

More interestingly, instead of royalties, these moochers of taxpayer money were paid lumpsums!

It was a well-oiled, self-serving criminal racket of epic proportions, one into which unaccountability was built in. The cabal would award appointments and projects and fellowships to themselves. Another favourite trick was to continuously enlarge the scope of the projects almost for eternity so that any inspection would always yield the same result: work in progress. And each time the scope was enlarged, the accompanying trick would be put into action: enlist more number of research assistants, stenographers, typists, DTP operators, etc. Needless, these low-rung operators would be accommodated because…well, because, “you know, Pandey ji’s nephew or Ali Miyaan’s daughter-in-law was in need of a job, so if you could kindly do this favour…” The 1987 project titled Dictionary of Socio-Economic and Administrative Terms in Indian Inscriptions” had bled the taxpayer of ₹ 22 lakhs and in 1990, its scope had been expanded. Why? The ICHR itself provides the explanation:

Responsibility for compiling the Arabic, Persian and Urdu inscriptions was accepted by Professor Irfan Habib on the request of the ICHR.
Quoted from "Eminent Historians"

Convenient eh? But who was the ICHR Chairman in 1990? Surprise: Irfan Habib. But there was a parallel track. Even as the members of this Marxist musical chair were busy awarding newer projects to themselves at nauseating intervals, the more eminent among them had a near-permanent cash cow: the Towards Freedom project which fetched them ₹ 25,000/-

Cornering the ICHR Chairman

But as with life, so with ICHR. When H.D. Deve Gowda became Prime Minister in 1996, their gravy train threatened to grind to a sudden, screeching halt. For the first time in over two decades, an academic named Prof. S. Shettar became the ICHR Chairman and began digging around. What he uncovered naturally shocked him. However, he hadn’t bargained for…in fact, the kind of all-round depravity that the cabal was innately endowed with was beyond even the realm of Shettar’s imagination. In summary, here is a partial list of the methods of intrigue they employed against the Chairman with aplomb.

Ignoring repeated letters and appeals for explanation. When that failed, he convened a meeting with…guess who? Irfan Habib and R.S. Sharma both of who pulled that time-tested bureaucratic trick: passing the buck. Shettar fell for it. The guy he contacted was K.V. Ramesh. He agreed to be accountable. With a caveat: I need more money and personnel to complete my pending projects. If you want any further help, please approach…surprise! Irfan Habib and R.S. Sharma. This time, Sharma coolly said that he had dissociated himself from the project he had been paid so handsomely for. But if Mr. Chairman insists that he needs my services, Habib saab and I, each, will submit a revised project. The poor chairman had now been reduced something akin to a dog chasing its own tail. Predictably, even as late as 1 September 1998, neither Sharma nor Habib had sent their project proposals. When asked about this again, both said they were busy with the editing of Comprehensive History of India and this time, they passed on the buck to K.M. Shrimali. Arun Shourie summarizes the final outcome of this Dictionary project:

Notice the tone [of Sharma et al]: far from being the one who shares the major responsibility for the state of affairs, [Sharma] is offering to do a favour, and, against his better judgement…see if something can be done to help the Chairman out! The result?...eleven years have passed. ₹ 3,74,000 have been spent. Nothing but nothing has been published.
Arun Shourie
Tarikh-i-Habibi: Institutional Ruffianism of the Clique of Seven at the ICHR

This scale and the sheer perverse nature of manipulation is perhaps attained only by the knavest of politicians. But then we’re talking about Marxists whose love for the basest impulses is matched only by the perfection with which they practice it in real life.

The other act of academic and institutional banditry that Irfan Habib pulled off during his stint at ICHR has already been recounted in another essay in detail: the calculated disappearance and stealing of Dr. Paramatma Saran’s manuscript of the English translation of the Tarikh-i-Akbari. We will only review the climax of this academic hijacking. “Dr.” Tasneem Ahmad, the thief, was awarded a PhD for a work he had stolen from Dr. Paramatma Saran. Guess who he dedicates his work to? “To the memory of my Ustad, Professor S. Nurul Hasan,” the very person who created the Jawaharlal Nehru University. There’s a perverse poetic justice to it: a thief dedicating a stolen work to a deceased wrecker of generations.

And guess who wrote the foreword to this stolen thesis, equally fittingly?

Irfan Habib.

In the next and concluding part of this series, we will examine the wretched role played by Irfan Habib bin Mohammed Habib in lying, misleading, propagandizing and poisoning the national discourse and splintering the Indian society during the Babri Masjid episode.

To be continued

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