In his reaction to the recent statement by historians on growing intolerance in the country, the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Y Sudershan Rao, has described their protest as “unprofessional and unwarranted”.
Historians, he said, should draw lessons from the past to identify the cause for intolerance, rather than “look for analogies in the past to legitimise their avowed political ideologies, whims and fancies”.
Rao’s criticism comes against the backdrop of more than 50 historians, including names like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, B D Chattopadhyaya, Upinder Singh, M G S Narayanan and D N Jha, expressing concern about the “highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterised by various forms of intolerance”. Rao’s own appointment was bitterly criticised by left-leaning historians led by Habib and Thapar.
In a joint statement issued last week, they cited the killings of rationalist scholar MM Kalburgi and 50-year-old Muslim labourer Mohammed Akhlaq, the latter killed by a mob on the suspicion of consuming beef, as examples of growing intolerance.
The ICHR chairman seemed to agree with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s qualification of such protests as “manufactured”. “The signed protest from various scientists and social scientists among whom there are some ‘eminent historians’ was drawn from different places of the country and did not flash from the blue. Was it not a product of a coordinated human effort backed by a premeditated plan of action, of course ‘rigorously’ pursued and orchestrated by a few historians led by Prof Irfanji,” the head of the apex historical research body said in an emailed response to The Indian Express.
Responding to the accusation that the current government is promoting a kind of “legislated history and “manufactured image of the past”, Rao said that the group of protesting historians are the same people who had “a firm grip” on all academic and funding bodies for four decades and so the complaint of legislating history would apply more to them than the present regime.
“So far, whatever has been read or studied or produced at a popular or ‘scholarly’ level in the name of ‘Indian history’ are only the products of this section of historians. Can they name any single work or any research endeavor from ICHR during this short span of a year which could be termed as ‘legislated history’? Their condemnation would comfortably apply to the products of history commissioned by this ‘group of historians’,” he said.