The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has amended its funding rules to strip the Indian History Congress (IHC), the country’s oldest professional body of historians, of its special status.
Just two months before ICHR chairman Y S Rao resigned, the council, under his leadership, approved the removal of a special provision that allowed the IHC to receive funds exceeding the fixed ceiling of Rs 5 lakh for its annual conference. The decision was taken on September 23 during the 81st meeting of the general council of ICHR.
According to ICHR’s former member-secretary Gopinath Ravindran, the IHC was eligible for additional funding by virtue of being the oldest and professional body of Indian historians. This privilege has been revoked by the council for the first time in over four decades.
The IHC and the 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 Vajpayee government’s attempt at “confounding myth and history”. Last year, 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.
The current members of the ICHR recently launched a veiled attack on the IHC for being a bastion of Marxist history, in a statement that was released against historians such as Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib for criticising the government on the issue of intolerance.
Reacting to the change in funding rules, IHC secretary Professor Ishrat Alam said, “I don’t understand in what wisdom has the ICHR curtailed its funding for the Indian History Congress. It’s a body of international repute which receives over 1,500 scholars every year at its annual conference. Its proceedings are found in the Congress library in the US. There is no reason why it should be treated at par with regional history congresses whose conferences are attended by not more than 200 to 300 historians.”
The IHC is organising its annual conference in West Bengal next month. Unlike before, the council, Alam added, has disbursed less than the amount requested for organising the conference this time.
Defending the decision to revoke IHC’s privilege, Rao told The Indian Express, “Under my chairmanship, the council has ended the discrimination shown in the grants to professional organisations. Annually IHC was granted money over and above ceiling for hosting its annual conference. Lump sum amounts and additional grants were also paid separately for holding panel discussions, symposia and other academic programs as part of the conference. The ICHR also reimbursed for travel of the foreign delegates to the Congress. We have corrected this anomaly. Only the previous councils can do justice to this question as to why IHC has to be granted a special status over other organisations in this huge democratic country.”