The country’s oldest professional body of historians is facing an unprecedented crisis after the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), the designated host of the 79th session of the Indian History Congress (IHC), has expressed inability to organise the event on December 28-30, citing paucity of funds.
The university made the last-minute announcement on its website on Wednesday, evoking strong protests from the Congress, which, in a letter to SPPU Vice-Chancellor Nitin Karmalkar, said the host cannot unilaterally take such a decision. It also asked the university to refund the registration fee to all participants.
Karmalkar was not available for comment.
The IHC has called an emergency meeting of its Executive Committee (EC) on December 14 to discuss the development and decide an alternate location for the session.
The IHC’s annual conference sees the biggest congregation of historians — over 1,200 delegates attend it and about 700 papers are presented. Currently, historian K M Shrimali is the body’s general president and historians Irfan Habib and Shireen Moosvi of Aligarh Muslim University are the vice-presidents.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Radhika Seshan, associate professor of history at SPPU and the local secretary tasked with organisng the IHC session, attributed the university’s inability to host the conference on time to shortage of funds.
“So far, we have managed to arrange less than half of the expected budget (Rs 1.5 crore). That is why we have sought some extension in arranging the same,” she said.
“It would not be right to seek funds from the state government or the university. We are evaluating some other assistance, say transportation or likewise, which can contribute towards the overall organising of the event. We are meeting the SPPU V-C on Thursday to decide the next course of action,” she said.
While Seshan insisted that the event had been postponed to January, IHC Secretary R Mahalakshmi said the local host cannot take this decision. “She (Seshan) had first suggested postponement in an email on December 6 and was promptly told by us that it’s not the place of a local secretary to make decisions on whether the conference is to be postponed and when it will be held in future. The venue of the IHC is announced a year in advance. The university has already collected registration fee of Rs 2,000 from over 700 delegates. SPPU could not have possibly discovered its inability to arrange funds just a few weeks before the Congress,” said Mahalakshmi, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
SPPU had invited the IHC to hold its 2018 conference in Pune last year.
While sources in IHC suggested that the university was under pressure from the state government to not host the meet, SPPU Registrar Prafulla Pawar denied this, blaming inadequate funds and arrangement of accommodation for delegates instead.
The IHC and NDA government have shared an uneasy relationship in the past. In 2001, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s inaugural speech at the 61st session of the IHC was critical of the A B Vajpayee government’s attempt at “confounding myth and history”.
In 2014, the IHC passed a resolution against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement citing plastic surgery and genetic science to explain creation of Ganesh and Karna.