A prayer meeting organised in memory of one of the foremost scholars of ‘modern Indian history’, Bipan Chandra, at Nehru Memorial Museum Library saw historians Romila Thapar, Mridula Mukherjee, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former minister Anand Sharma and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury paying homage.
After a prolonged illness, Chandra passed away at his Gurgaon residence on Saturday morning. He was 86. Though Singh did not speak at the prayer meeting, Yechury spoke about his association with Chandra since his Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) days. “We had disagreements on the tactical line that the party, the CPI and CPM were following,” Yechury said. Remembering Chandra as “a passionate crusader for the idea of India”, Yechury spoke about the importance of Chandra’s work at a time when “myth is paraded as history”.
“In that context, Bipan’s presence is very sorely missed — when there is a new challenge or offensive against the discipline of history. Whatever be the degree of our disagreements, never did it turn into animosity. As the chairman of the NBT, the kind of books Bipan decided to bring out provided a scientific base to the understanding of history,” he said.
Speakers at the event also mentioned the need to take forward Chandra’s unfinished research. “If all of us can collectively complete his unfinished work on the biography of Bhagat Singh, we’ll be paying a proper homage to him,” Yechury said. Underlining the significance of Chandra’s works, former Union Cabinet Minister Anand Sharma said, “In a multicultural, multilingual country, the secular interpretation of history — giving that kind of knowledge is very important…”
Thapar and Mukherjee, on the other hand, spoke about Chandra’s stint at Hindu College and at JNU when his residence would become the venue for spirited discussions on history writing and the need for developing a critique of the imperialist writings on Indian history. After DU, Thapar and Chandra were instrumental in forming a new history curriculum for JNU. Mukherjee, on the other hand, came in contact with Chandra during her MA days at JNU.