Prof Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, who headed Kakatiya University’s history department, has been appointed by the new government as chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Days into his new office, Rao has kicked up a controversy with posts on his blog, including one that praises the ancient caste system, bringing his alleged political leanings under question. In an interview to The Indian Express, Rao defends his views and says an Indian perspective to history has been missing.
What is your reaction to the criticism you are attracting, how your views on history are being questioned?
I am barely two weeks old as chairman, ICHR, and people are just imagining things. Why should I have an agenda? People are ascribing all kinds of things. They do not even understand that ICHR by nature is only a funding agency for research. I may have several views on the subject that I have taught for years, guided research students on it… but these are my personal views — how does it impact my functioning? I am glad that some very senior historians are taking notice of me, but why find fault with others just because they do not toe your line? Why should I be proving my credentials and merit to them (Left historians)? The government — not any political party — has had the confidence in me to appoint me. At least give me six months to a year before judging me; wait at least to see if I have any agenda at all.
You have said in your opening message as ICHR chairman that “ researches directly sponsored and conducted by the ICHR are mostly guided by the modern schools of historiography of the West” and that there is need to pay attention to “the ancient and mediaeval India and particularly to its remote past”. You have also said that post-Independence, “we are yet to evolve a methodology to study our remote past with Indian perspective”. Please explain.
That is my view. In the past 200 years, generally Indian history has been seen from the perspective of western historians. It is not a secret that the methodology to study our history was only western. We are in fact rejecting all others saying that these do not meet the West-inspired standards and parameters. Earlier it was British historians who did so, and post-Independence study of Indian history has been dominated by Marxists. Marxism is not India. Later came subaltern views. I am only posing a question — can there be any Indian perspective.. any alternative methodology?
Would your views interfere or influence ICHR’s functioning?
ICHR funds all research, regardless of which school it comes from. The chairperson is not alone on these issues. The council and the chairman decide on the funding. Earlier also, projects taken up independently by ICHR have been seen as complicated and have been questioned. I have not even been allowed to start working. I have no quarrel with any historian, anyone at all. Instead of condemning me for my views, at least allow me the liberty to let out my views — these have nothing to do with ICHR.
As ICHR chairman, what are your priority areas?
Whatever best can be done will be done. It is the council that will decide. As an individual I cannot do anything. The council will do whatever is needed following all rules and the memorandum of association we have. Even after my appointment, I have not met anyone in the PMO — there is no one dictating to me what to do. Give me some time.
Excerpts from a ‘Chairperson’s Diary’, dated June 30, 2014, on the website of ICHR, written by the new chairman soon after taking over.
* “I feel, in the first two decades, considerable work has been done in ancient and mediaeval areas and in the recent years the research in modern and regional history have come up in large scale. Mostly, I think, the researches directly sponsored and conducted by the ICHR are mostly guided by the modern schools of historiography of the West.”
* “Though much work has been done in these areas, we have to pay enough attention to the ancient and medieval India and particularly to its remote past. India has the great heritage of civil intellectual and spiritual achievements from times immemorial, having no parallel in the world. In the sixty years of our independence, we are yet to evolve a methodology to study our remote past with Indian perspective. Secondly, we have yet to understand the nuances of ancient knowledge and the methods and techniques which our ancients employed to bring the essence of knowledge to the door steps of each household.”
* “…The ICHR will encourage all types of studies on various historical problems without any bias and discrimination so as to enrich our understanding of Indian history in its multifaceted grandeur. I thank you all once again for accepting me into your fold.”