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The ICHR controversy - The Hindu, Sunday

V. KRISHNA ANANTH ()
July 19, 1998

Title: The ICHR controversy
Author: V. KRISHNA ANANTH
Publication: The Hindu, Sunday
Date: July 19, 1998

THE BJP and the RSS leadership have never let go an
opportunity to tamper with history and distort the
discipline by way of mixing up mythology and beliefs with
historical definitions. The objective behind such an
exercise has always been to redefine nationalism in terms
that would suit the Hindutva project. And it was only
natural that the Union Ministry for Human Resources
Development grabbed the immediate opportunity available
before it, to pack the Indian Council for Historical
Research (ICHR) with men who agreed with the RSS on
several aspects of historical research, particularly on the
definition of nationalism in exclusivist terms.

The opportunity was made available to the new
Government because the three year term of the previous
council had expired as early as in June 1997 and the
United Front Government simply allowed the old members
to continue. The BJP Government was well within its
rights to send all of them packing and appoint a fresh lot.
And all the 18 professional historians, apart from the
officials from the various departments under the HRD
Ministry who were part of the 25 member council, were
replaced by a new team. And all of them agree with the
Sangh Parivar on its views on nationalism and Indian
history.

As for instance, a majority of the newly appointed
members, hold the view that the Aryans were the original
inhabitants of India and seek to establish a continuity
between this imaginary Aryan civilisation and the Vedic
ages. In their view, the Vedic ages and the Golden Age of
the Hindu kingdoms must be seen as representing the
quintessential National culture. The logic of this school is
that the coming of the Islamic conquerors - Mohammed
Ghouri and Ghazini in the 11 Century - marked the
beginning of colonial rule.

Rather than locating colonialism in the context of the
Capitalist development in Europe and the exploitation to
which India was subjected to by Britain and Nationalism
as emerging out of the response and the resistance of the
colonised people, the Sangh Parivar's definition is based on
the religious idiom; in their own words it is cultural
nationalism. In other words, the whole basis to this brand
of nationalism is an imaginary Hindu identity as opposed
to the Muslims. Indeed, this was how, M. S. Golwalkar
defined nationalism and this is an article of faith for most
of those new members in the ICHR. What is striking in
this particular project of the historians with RSS leaning is
their scant regard to the rigours of historical or
archeological research. Systematic study of material
evidence now made available through the archeological
excavations in the sites that marked the vedic civilisation
such as the pottery, the tools found in those sites and more
importantly the evidence of the horse, the spoked wheel
and many other clues suggesting a pastoral life point very
clearly to the common elements that are found in the
Central Asian sites.

Whereas, the Harappan excavations clearly show a
civilisation that flourished in pre-vedic times (and hence
non-vedic) that was destroyed by the Aryan invaders who
rode the horse. It is a historic fact that the horse was not
found in the Harappan sites - Mohan ja Daro - and that the
invaders came with horses there and were able to destroy
the civilisation with iron tools. These factors point out very
clearly that the Aryans migrated from the Central Asia
before settling down in the Gangetic plains.

However, the historians with RSS leaning historians,
because it promotes their political project - fascism -
simply dismiss these facts that bear the stamp of historical
authority and rigour and seek to drive hard the myth that
Aryans were an original race and they inhabited India. The
project here is very simple; if the Aryans were original
inhabitants of India it would also apply to the Vedic
civilisation and the Hindu kingdoms that existed. By
extension, this definition of history will mean in the
natural course that India's subjugation began in the 12th
Century when Mohammed Ghazini set foot in India and
hence all those who are not Aryans (Hindus) are aliens and
hence must be driven out. There is no place in this scheme
to approach history in terms of the movement of social
forces rather than seeing it as the story of the rulers. That
this band of archeologists are guided by a political project
whose very basis is to perpetuate the oppressive caste
regime and undermining the protests that marked the
evolution of society from the feudal ages is a point that
must be underscored here.

While none would argue here that historical research must
be treated as a stale exercise of merely recalling statements
and on the contrary there is the need, at every stage to test
these statements against facts, the trouble with historians
with RSS leaning is that they have always looked for
material backing from the state machinery to drive home
their point.

In other words, the RSS had in the past made use of their
control over the state machinery to distort history. If in
1977, during the Janata Party rule, the Jan Sangh exerted
pressure to withdraw history text-books prescribed by the
NCERT for school students only because they contained
views that refused to confirm such myths that the ancient
Hindu kingdoms represented the Golden Age. Instead, they
elaborated on the exploitative nature of the state.

Later on, the BJP led Governments in Uttar Pradesh (1991-
1993) inserted serious distortions in the history text-books
for schools coming under the State Government.

The insertions made were in conformity with the political
statements that the RSS had been seeking to make
throughout its existence: The overall direction was nothing
but an attempt to state as gospel truths such historically
inconsistent conclusions about the Aryans and that the
Vedic age represented a superior form of civilisation and
that it predated the Harappan civilisation.

Flowing out of this historically wrong statement was a set
of insertions that sought to present in graphic terms the
valour and greatness of the medieval chieftains - Shivaji,
Rana Pratap and so on - who fought against the Delhi
Sultans and the Moghuls.

But then the most serious distortion that was made was a
three line sentence in the history text-book printed and
published by the State Government's Text-book
Corporation. The statement read as follows: ``Babur's
commander, Mir Baqi constructed a mosque on the spot
where a temple was destroyed. Even though this structure
is under dispute, the Hindus consider this structure a
temple even today.'' The worst ever communal campaign
that claimed hundreds of lives in its course was sought to
be presented in school text books as a part of India's
``liberation movement''.

Indeed, Hitler too justified his campaign on the basis of
some distortion of historical facts about the superiority of
the German race and the need to exterminate the Jews if
Germany had to progress. That the RSS luminaries -
Golwalkar in particular - had done nothing else than
simply replacing the Hindus for German race and the
Muslims for the Jews needs no elaboration. If Hitler sought
to distort history to suit his anti-Semitism, the RSS in
India has been doing the same.

An integral part of this plank is the RSS design to demean
or understate the importance of the freedom struggle. That
the RSS brand of nationalism had no role to play in these
events is a fact. More than anything else, the national
movement ensured the melting down of the religious
identities. Nationalism was a modern concept and in its
core it is the anti-thesis to the communal divisions that the
fascists seek to construct. Distortion of History is an
important aspect in this project.

And the changes effected at the ICHR - by packing this
premier academic institution with men who are part of this
project - can only be perceived as part of the new
Government's efforts to accord a sense of legitimacy to
such distortions in history.