‘Eminent Historians’ or Criminals in Scholar’s Robes?
Column by N.S. Rajaram (Contributing Editor)
In his article on Romila Thapar, Professor D.K. Chakrabarti remarked that “since the coming of this group to power [at the Indian Council of Historical Studies], the world of Indian historical studies has been largely criminalized.” Arun Shourie in his book takes a close look at this phenomenon.
Thanks to the untiring efforts of truth-loving scholars over the past several decades, the public is gradually becoming aware of the massive distortion of Indian history—from the ancient and medieval to modern—that the history establishment of post Independence India has engaged. This has included the perpetuation of the mythical Aryan invasion and non-existent Aryan-Dravidian divide by ‘eminent historians Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and their followers, the whitewashing of the horrors of Islamic rule by Thapar, Bipan Chandra and other leftists.
This has been accompanied by the suppression of the contributions of national leaders like Veer Savarkar, Sardar Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose while exaggerating and exalting the role of Jawaharlal Nehru, covering up his blunders. For example, Ramachandra Guha in his widely read book India After Gandhi blames Mountabatten rather than Nehru for the Kashmir while scarcely noting his greater blunder of surrendering Tibet to China and neglecting the borders, which led eventually to India’s humiliation in the 1962 India-China War. This is taken a step further in his compilation Makers of Modern India which has no space for Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, K.M. Munshi, Subhas Bose, or even Sardar Patel but prominently mentions Nehru’s favorite charlatan, the missionary Verrier Elwin (Guha’s own hero.)
All this would no doubt please the members of India’s most influential (and wealthiest) political family—at least those able to read such books—which was one suspects was the author’s goal. This kind of ‘writing to please’ the high and mighty (and wealthy)—like Asko Parpola pandering to Dravidian politicians and being rewarded for it—appears to be a new trend in Indian historiography. This kind of court chronicle writing was not the subject of Arun Shourie’s book discussed below. Though the book is over a decade old, the issues raised in it are still relevant. Two other books in the same vein are Negationism in India: Concealing the record of Islam by Koenraad Elst and Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls by N.S. Rajaram.
Arun Shourie on pilferage in ICHR
Arun Shourie, scholar and journalist, has been a tireless investigator of the dark forces that pose a threat to India as a nation and its civilization. And for this reason he has been dubbed a ‘communalist’. His book, Eminent Historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud takes on the scholars and their methodology that have led to this climate— a climate in which free debate is impossible, and anyone who raises questions about their theology is not debated but denounced with swearwords. (This is not limited to India as many American and European academics know, but seems to have reached its apogee in India.) In particular, he explores the degradation of the history establishment by Leftist scholars who have come to be known as the ‘secularists’. By highlighting the total corruption at their hands of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), he brings to light their venality, their dishonesty and the devastating effect on national intellectual life resulting from their pervasive if dwindling, influence.
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 pathology—there is no other word for it—has two wings: cultural perversion and intellectual dishonesty. There is another point worth noting, though not emphasized by Shourie: 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 recognized everywhere, in the world of humanities, these ‘eminent historians’ are utter nonentities, little more than crooked reflections of colonial stereotypes. They are also shown to be dishonest to the core, caring nothing for truth and capable of stealing both money and research.
I recognize that these are strong words, but not quite strong enough as the following episode shows. In the year 1976-77, the late Dr. Paramatma Saran, one of India’s most distinguished medieval historians, submitted to the ICHR the English translation (with annotations) of the Persian work Tarikh-i-Akbari by Arif Qandhari. Soon the manuscript mysteriously disappeared from its archives until it resurfaced nearly twenty-five years later under bizarre circumstances. In response to repeated inquiries by Dr. Saran’s son-in-law, and even an official inquiry, the Deputy Director of the Medieval Unit of ICHR — one Tasneem Ahmad — reported that the manuscript was “submitted but not traceable.”
The official inquiry also somehow got killed, for reasons, as we shall soon see, of the involvement of a galaxy of ‘eminent historians’, notably Irfan Habib and Satish Chandra. (These, along with Tasneem Ahmad, are names to remember. Not to be forgotten is their patron Nurul Hassan, Honorable Minister for Education.)
A case of utter irresponsibility—one might say—but the story is only beginning. The very same ‘submitted but not traceable’ manuscript was submitted as a Ph.D. dissertation by none other than Tasneem Ahmad, the Deputy Director of the Medieval Unit of the ICHR who had earlier reported it ‘untraceable’! He even had the temerity to publish it under his own name with a foreword by Irfan Habib who showered fulsome praise on his protégé. “What it [Tarikh-i-Akbari] needed” wrote the eminent historian Irfan Habib in his Foreword to the stolen work, “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.”
The ‘eminent’ Professor Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University, twice Chairman of the ICHR and five times its member, did not stop there. He lauded the pilfered work as 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.”
Of course, the thief returned the compliment from his master. As Shourie notes (p 37):
“The first and foremost [sic]” writes Tasneem Ahmad, “I express my profound sense of gratitude to, very personal regards and respects to Professor Irfan Habib, who encouraged me and guided me at every stage of the work. …”
The debt to another of these eminences is not forgotten either: “My debt to my revered teacher,” writes Tasneem Ahmad, “Professor Satish Chandra is incalculable. He took great pains in reading and correcting the work and his considered suggestions have paid me rich dividend.”
One supposes that it did not require much in the way of correction, its author the late Dr. Saran being a great Persian scholar—much greater in fact than any of these partners in crime. Their modus operandi is more like that of the Sicilian Mafia than anything found in respectable academia. “Dead men tell no tales” is a well-known motto among the Mafiosi, which seems to have been fruitfully adopted by the ‘eminent historians’ in executing what they must have thought was the perfect crime. Too bad Dr. Saran’s son-in-law should have spoilt the show.
Their pilferage activity is not limited to plagiarism. Money has not escaped the notice of these eminent historians. One example should suffice. The Government of India funded the ICHR to produce a comprehensive multi-volume work on the Freedom Movement, to be called Towards Freedom. All told the Government gave nearly two crore rupees to this project. (1 crore = 10 million.) The importance of the project is not in dispute, especially since the British produced a multi-volume work on the transfer of power giving their version of the story. But the ‘eminent historians’ of the ICHR failed to produce the work although the funds allotted to the project were spent. As Shourie points out (p 13):
“An afterword is in order to this sorry tale of the Towards Freedom Project. As far as history writing is concerned, few things could have been more important than to bring alive for subsequent generations what our leaders felt and did in the long struggle to wrest freedom for the country. And just see how these eminences have handled this responsibility: 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.
Shourie also points out that an earlier effort on the history of the Freedom Movement headed by the great historian R.C. Majumdar was aborted by vested forces in the Congress Government itself. What was Majumdar’s crime? He refused to bend history to suit the interest of the Congress. It was given to a more pliable scholar, one Tarachand, who produced a worthless tract that no one reads. Fortunately, Majumdar had the will — and the scholarship — to produce without any sponsors the magisterial three-volume work History of the Freedom in India (Firma KLM, Calcutta). Majumdar himself observed:
… It is an ominous sign of the time that Indian history is being viewed in official circles in the perspective of recent politics. The official history of the freedom movement starts with the premise that India lost independence only in the eighteenth century and had thus an experience of subjection to a foreign power for only two centuries. Real history, on the other hand, teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century.” (Vol.I: pp xii-xiii)
This is by the way. Returning to the Towards Freedom project, some of the details ferreted out by Shourie are most interesting. Several historians claimed that they worked on various projects in an ‘honorary capacity’, implying that they took no money for their work. This was just subterfuge. They invariably took substantial sums of money at the beginning of the project, but were not given the final installment due upon the completion of the project, for the simple reason they never did complete the project. That is to say, they took whatever money they could without doing any work. Another subterfuge was to call the payment an ‘honorarium’. But of course, money is money, no matter what you call it. This can be illustrated with a case involving a leading historian—no doubt eminent as well—Bipan Chandra.
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.” In other words, Bipan Chandra had taken whatever money he could without producing anything. This is not the full story however. Shourie writes (pp 15-16):
Later I learnt that the Rs 75,000/- which had been allotted to this “eminent historian” for this project — “the Oral History Project” — had been but a part, a small part of the total take. Bipan Chandra was given in addition Rs Two Lakhs by the ICSSR and Rs Four Lakhs through the Jawahrlal Nehru University. Neither institution received any manuscript from him. [1 lakh = 100,000.]
In other words, this eminent historian functioned like a scam operator, taking money promising future gains, and then disappearing with the cash. In fairness to Bipan Chandra, it must be acknowledged that he was not alone. Like plagiarism, academic scam was part of their methodology—or ‘technology’ —as Shourie calls it. Another was recommending each other’s books for translation into regional languages at Government expense and collecting royalties, though invariably called ‘honoraria’. Honor before anything else.
The sums involved will seem small when compared with the crores and scores of crores looted by politicians and scamsters. As Shourie observes, this is only because our standards have become low. In addition, these are the leaders of society who are supposed set an example for future generations through their teaching and conduct. No one looks up to crooks and politicians—the Harshad Mehtas or the Laloo Yadavs—as role models, but educational leaders are different. They serve as role models for most young people; society expects high standards from them in return for the respect that they are accorded, but these ‘eminences’ have shown themselves fit only for the company of Harshads and Laloos.
There is another point to consider: if they stole relatively small sums of money, it is only because that was all they could lay their hands on. It was not thrift but lack of opportunity that prevented them from scaling Boforsian heights. [Sic: At the time of writing, 2G spectrum scams involving thousands and tens of thousands crores were still in the future. Editor]
While these eminent historians frequently pay lip service to ‘unity’ and ‘composite culture’—meaning synthesis of Hindu and Islamic contributions—the main theme of their propaganda is a relentless attack on Hinduism and everything that is pre-Islamic. It is in effect a propagation of the Islamic view of history, which holds that the history of any place begins with the arrival of Islam, and everything before it was a dark age— Al Dahiya in Islamic historiography.
So, it is not quite correct to call these eminent historians Marxists; they may borrow Marxist jargon but their methodology is based on a combination of the Islamic view of history and Goebbelsian propaganda tactics. They simply repeat their assertions at a high decibel level with the expectation that it will drown out all others. One wonders if any of them have read Marx, for their writings do not indicate wide reading. On the other hand, they come out sounding shrill and juvenile. Reading them is a torment.
The theme or the leitmotiv of their propaganda can be summarized simply: everything Hindu, and of Indian origin is evil and must be painted in the darkest hues. As a corollary, anything noble found in the Indian tradition—the Veda and the Sanskrit language for example—must be of foreign origin. This is the real reason behind these eminent historians’ fierce attachment to the discredited Aryan invasion theory, though they know the truth. They insist against all evidence that the Vedas and Sanskrit are not of indigenous origin, and stoutly deny that the Harappan Civilization was Vedic. As evidence continues to mount showing the Harappan and the Vedic Civilizations to be one, Romila Thapar stated in a national magazine that it must be resisted at all cost.
This also accounts for the dismal contribution to scholarship that this school has made in its fifty years of domination of the establishment. This weakness of scholarship, of which they are no doubt aware, does not fully account for their career of falsehood and fabrication. Normal people do not descend to such depths of behavior simply to protect their reputations; after all, no one steals paltry sums of money to protect one’s reputation. There must be some pathology underlying such conduct, especially their persistent whitewash of the Islamic record— a record that bears comparison with the Nazi holocaust and the Christian destruction of civilizations in the Americas. As Koenraad Elst put it in his insightful monograph Negationism in India, Concealing the Record of Islam (1993,Voice of India, pp 1-2):
In my study of the Ayodhya controversy, I noticed that the frequent attempts to conceal or deny inconvenient evidence were an integral part of a larger effort to rewrite India’s history and to whitewash Islam. It struck me that this effort to deny the unpleasant facts of Islam’s destructive role in Indian history is similar to the attempts by some European writers to deny the Nazi Holocaust. Its goal and methods are similar, even though its social position is very different: in Europe, Holocaust negationists are a fringe group shunned by respectable people, but in India the jihad negationists are in control of the academic establishment and of the press.
These are the ‘eminent historians’! — “So are they all, all honourable men” who killed Julius Caesar. Now that this brand of ‘scholarship’ is getting exposed and receiving the kind of treatment it deserves, it is necessary to raise a fundamental question. What was it that turned these ‘eminent historians’ — often coming from privileged backgrounds and enjoying the best benefits that the country had to offer — into men and women who would sink to the lowest depths of moral degradation? As Shakespeare put it:
They that have done this deed are honourable; —
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not…
So the choice before the nation is clear: break the stranglehold that this decadent elite has come to acquire over education or descend into moral and intellectual morass of the kind exemplified by them. The education reform of the kind suggested by Sri Aurobindo (and Swami Vivekananda) should have begun sixty years ago, but it did not. Little improvement can be expected as long as the national intellectual scene is monopolized by an elite which regards distortion of truth and even outright lying as a legitimate part of academic activity, to the extent of making it the foundation of its historiography.
[Sic: I am happy to report that a Kannada version of Shourie’s Eminent Historians will be appearing shortly to which I have contributed the Foreword. NSR]