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'Red History' withering away
'Red History' withering away

Meenakshi Jain
The Weekend Observer
February 26, 2000

Title: 'Red History' withering away
Author: Meenakshi Jain
Publication: The Weekend Observer
Date: February 26, 2000

Indian Marxists clearly view the domain of history writing as their special turf, on which they will permit no poaching. Hence, the very suggestion that their work, too, must submit to scrutiny, has raised their hackles, and prompted the clarion call for 'a mass movement of intellectuals' against the Indian Council of Historical Research's decision to submit two volumes of the 'Towards Freedom' project to a review committee.

In the contemporary Indian context, all talk of historical objectivity is simply hogwash. Sitting in their fortified campuses; the big guns of academia have decreed that red is the only shade in which. they will permit Indian history to be dyed.

So though the interpolations and machinations in their reconstruction of historical reality have increasingly been exposed, Marxists remain unfazed and continue to occupy the high moral and intellectual ground.

Thus, K N Panikker, one of the aggrieved historians, betrayed no trace of self-consciousness where he alleged that the ICHR's move was "part of the plan to spread a distorted and fictitious history of the national movement". The irony of his statement in the context of proven Leftist subterfuge in history writing was obviously lost on him.

Serious charges of document tampering by Leftist scholars have come to the fore in the current controversy, and cannot be brushed aside by name-calling. Dr. P N Chopra, who edited the first volume of the Towards Freedom project, has gone on record to say that he was pressurised by the then ICHR chairman and Marxist veteran, Irfan Habib, to incorporate 'certain Communist documents' in his volume, and summarily dismissed on his refusal to do so (The Pioneer, 18 February).

Nor is this all. Those now crying hoarse over the recalling of the Panikker-Sarkar volumes from the press prior to printing would know that Chopra's volume was recalled from the market after its publication, and is currently gathering dust on ICHR shelves!

Leftist scholars would also know that the controversial documents rejected by Chopra were subsequently included in the volume brought out by another left-leaning historian. These allegedly pertain to trade union movements and peasant revolts. It would seem that an entire Left industry is working overtime to create a larger than life role for these bodies to the detriment of other key players in the freedom struggle.

Marxist claims to historical objectivity are further undermined by B R Grover's assertion that a previous volume covering 1943 44 (published in 1997) invited adverse comments on several major counts. While it reduced Mahatma Gandhi to a footnote, the Communist Party "which played a traitorous role in the freedom struggle had been highlighted out of proportion". Further, fifty per cent of the documents had little bearing on the independence movement. Most significant, however, was the fact that the 3-part volume containing 3500 pages and 2000 documents did not contain an index, making verification and validation of data well nigh impossible.

Dr. S K Gupta, Vice Chancellor, Himachal Pradesh University, adds that the documents in the said volume, instead of being listed chronologically as in the 'Transfer of Power' series, were arranged thematically, which Implicitly involved a subjective approach and framework. The volume also ignored the patriotic role of the Congress Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc in 1943-44 when the. British unleashed a wave of repression abetted by the CPI. Instead, the volume gave prominence to Communist documents denigrating the two organisations as 'fifth column' and suppressed documents highlighting the treasonous role of the CPI.

Gupta specifically cites Document No 56 of Chapter V of the volume, in which the CPI wanted to portray the CSP, FB and RSP as the 'fifth column'. The paragraphs of this document were not numbered and the reader was given the impression that the section captioned 'Relations with the Fifth Column' was the first para of the document, whereas it was actually the second. Out of the total of fourteen paras, only four were included, presumably because the rest did not fit the Leftist narrative (The Sunday Tribune 20 February).

Leftists have failed to respond to these charges, preferring to go on the rampage at the temerity of the opposition to their account of history. Panikker has chosen instead to highlight unsubstantiated instances of 'rightist manipulation', whatever that might mean. He has alleged that "they want to project RSS leaders as great freedom fighters whereas the fact is that they were not even near the struggle". (The Pioneer 18 February).

The current controversy, however, pertains to the venerable lineage being created for the Left as vanguard of the freedom movement. When journalist Arun Shourie first revealed documentary evidence of their collaborationist role with the colonial power, he was pilloried by the entire Left establishment. Then too, they could not controvert his findings.

Panikker has also accused the present political dispensation of trying to define India as a Hindu nation which, he says, is contrary to the fact that much brotherhood prevailed among communities in the pre-independence era (The Pioneer, 18 February). The connection between the current controversy and the regime's alleged desire to define India as a Hindu nation is unclear, and hence difficult to answer.

Equally baffling, though easy to refute, is the claim of historical brotherhood between communities in the pre-independence period. Since the reference is presumably to Hindu-Muslim relations, one can cite any number of non-Marxist tomes to show that harmony between the two Communities was at a premium during the entire period of Muslim rule, not to mention in the run up to independence. In the 1920s itself, there was a sharp increase in the number and intensity of communal riots. In one incident in 1924, all Hindus were forced to flee the town of Kohat in the North West Frontier. There were over forty communal riots in Calcutta alone in 1925. The United Provinces witnessed eighty-eight riots in the period 1923-27. In Kerala, the warlike Moplahs slaughtered thousands of Hindus and forcibly converted many more. The orgy of communal violence gathered greater momentum as Partition drew nearer. And yet in the name of historical objectivity we are asked to believe that inter-community relations registered a new high on the Richter scale.

Behind ail this bluster and bravado, it is clear that the ground is slipping from beneath the feet of Marxist historians. Recent studies by scholars removed from the hurly-burly of the Indian academic scene have forcefully refuted the main premises of Marxist historiography and highlighted the essential unity and integrity of Indian civilization, centred around Hinduism. It is not possible here to go into the details of that research, but one example should suffice to demonstrate how out-of-date Marxist scholarship is.

Buddhism and Jainism have long been described as heterodox creeds that challenged the Brahmin-dominated Vedic faith. Non-Marxist scholarship, however, is now questioning the tendency to "essentialise religious formations like Jainism and Hinduism as cohesive and bounded religious communities with relatively fixed traditions of doctrine and practice". Instead, it demonstrates that Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism are "Parts of a shared religious culture where divine figures, literary troupes, and ritual forms could all be reincorporated, reformulated and resituated for polemical purposes".

It is very likely, as Paul Dundas has suggested, that if we escape "the constrictions and restraints of our textual labellings and orderings, we may discover that on closer examination, categories and reifications such as. Jainism and Hinduism melt away and in the end we find ourselves confronting a socio-religious continuum which can only be described as South Asian". Dundas is no saffron henchman, but a respected academic.

The irony is that as more discerning historians enter the fray, the Left version of Indian history may simply wither away, and we may well find ourselves a Hindu nation by academic consensus.

(Dr. Jain is a Reader, Delhi University)

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