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Editorialising History - I

Editorialising History - I

Anup Kumar Sinha
The Organiser
March 5, 2000
Title: Editorialising History - I
Author: Anup Kumar Sinha
Publication: The Organiser
Date: March 5, 2000

The Marxists bubble of history has burst. The recalling of two volumes of the Towards Freedom project by the ICHR and the subsequent hue and cry over it, has completely exposed the Marxists' claimers in their 'history' of India.

The ICHR's decision to "temporarily withhold the work of publication of the volumes edited by K.M. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar" and to forward the type-scripts for perusal by the Council/Review Committee was taken with a view to filling any lacunae which led to severe criticism by scholars of the volumes published earlier. The committee consists of Prof. Satish Mittal, Former Head of the Department of History, Kurukshetra University, Prof. Hari Om, Head, Department of History, Jammu University and Prof. A. R. Khan, Former Head of Department of History. It will "look into the manuscripts and also get the manuscripts examined by eminent scholars from the particular area with which the book deals". One of the members clarified that the committee's role is confined merely to make suggestions to the General Editor of the project and to the ICHR regarding the contents of the volumes.

The distinguished writers of these volumes took the decision of the ICHR as an affront to editors' "academic freedom and rights" and launched a misinformation campaign against the ICHR. One of the editors, Prof. Sarkar, even called a meeting "in defence of History", only to confuse the gullible students of history in particular and people in general with a travesty of facts. What was more interesting was to find that these Marxists and their fellow travellers saw in the issue a larger game-plan to "transform India into a Hindu nation". The cacophony reached a crescendo with berating the RSS for 'talibanising' the country. Perhaps not content with their vehement criticism, the Marxist historian in truck with some fringe politicians came out on streets acquiring a reformist tone of cleansing the society with "Fascist forces". While admitting their fine art of making a mountain out of a molehill, it is pertinent to look into their (mis) deeds in ICHR in general and in the Towards Freedom project in particular.

The project was originally conceived in 1973 to give the Indian side of the story to counterbalance the Transfer of Power volumes published by the British Government. The idea was to present a nationalistic view of the final moments of Indian Freedom struggle, 1937- 1947 and to give an objective presentation of the plethora of material available on the subject. The project, however, fell prey to Marxists card-holders and their sympathisers. More about it later. By the year 1986, with Prof. Irfan Habib becoming the ICHR, the project came under the grip of Marxist historians. In one stroke, committed Marxist historians with Prof. S. Gopal as General Editor were appointed to present the objective account of the last decade of the Freedom Struggle. The academic Mafia lost no time in turning the project into a subjective one and by the time the first volume pertaining to the year 1943-44 appeared in 1997, the intention was clear. The volume (1943-44) edited by P.S. Gupta showed no restraint in highlighting the role of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Left. Prof. Gupta wore his prejudices unabashedly when he comments while introducing the chapters: "Chapter V and VI (on the CPI and the Radical Democratic Party) could be usefully read with Chapters IX and X (Peasant Struggles and Working Class Struggles), for obvious reasons." For the "Obvious reasons" are clear to researchers, Prof. Gupta further goes ahead with his subjective approach in what seemed to be an objective compilation of documents and writes: "The term 'nationalist' is used for all political parties (Congress and the various left-wing groups operating under its broad umbrella) whose aim was to replace British paramountcy in the subcontinent with a pan Indian political structure which envisaged equal citizenship of people of all castes and creeds. Admittedly, in working towards this goal, the leadership of those parties had, in the past, often betrayed weaknesses, which were exploited by the imperial power, nut it can be said unhesitatingly that none of these parties aimed to replace British rule in the entire subcontinent with the exclusive dominance of one religious community. The term communal or regional is used for organisations aiming at territorial separatism for Muslim-majority provinces (like the Muslim League with its 'Pakistan' slogan), or claiming special privileges and constitutional safeguards for specific castes and religious sects (like the Dravida Kazhagam in Madras or the Akali Dal in the Punjab, or the All-India Hindu Maha Sabha). I have used the term 'pseudonationalist' to describe militant organisations like the RSS. Their political programme not only aimed to rid the subcontinent of every vestige of British rule, but also to eliminate its Muslim inhabitants and establish the dominance of persons following Hindu religious practices. (It did not occur to these pseudonationalists that their programme and activities Were helping the Muslim League to justify the Pakistan demand and the British Raj to encourage the latter). The material on regional, communal separatist and pseudo-nationalist forces overlap with each other, and so that has all been put together in one Chapter (Ch. XVIII). Perhaps not content with his 'erudite' comments on the political and other groups, Prof. Gupta further show his prejudices thus: Indians who had a fractured vision of independence identified themselves with communal or regional or pseudo-nationalist parties like the Muslim League, the Akalis the D.K. in Madras, the Hindus Mahasabha and the RSS (XVIII).With the exception of the first, none of these groups shared power with the imperial administration during these years; the documents selected about these groups show how the League was able to power at the provincial level (especially in Bengal and Sind)and how Hindu communalism (especially the militant RSS)was growing in some parts of the country, taking advantage of the political vacuum created by the arrest of all Congress leaders. It is to the credit of two Indian officials of the Home Department (Vishnu Sahay and G. Ahmed) that they warned the government about the ominous long-term consequences of not controlling para-military communal organisations like the RSS and the Muslim National Guards (XVIII, 122, 131). He also writes: No propaganda or the RSS or the Muslim National Guards is to be found in the documents on the CPI and RDP that we have scrutinized, except for one odd letter from the Radical Democratic labour leader Jamnadas Mehta, asking the Central Government to permit RSS memberships among government servants (XVIII, 123). This was probably due to the pro-Muslim League stance that these parties had taken. Except in so far as their championship of 'Muslim self-determination (to justify Pakistan) acted as a counter-weight to the pseudo-nationalist Hindu definition of Indian nationalism (preached by the RSS) the role of these parties in fighting Hindu communalism was negligible.

So much for the editorial skills of "a scholar of distinction" as the General Editor Prof. S. Gopal called him. No need to mention the fact that the edited volumes, three in parts, running into several thousand pages, flouted every guideline of the project and the minimum requirements of a decent volume. There is no index, no volume number, contents only in one of the parts and even. The publisher's name was the wrongly printed as All Indian Council for Historical Research on the title page. The price is prohibitive. Interestingly, the editor admits: "There is a lot of overlap between one chapter and another".

No wonder, the volumes attracted severe criticisms from scholars. Prof. S.K. Gupta, former Head, Department of History, presently Vice-Chancellor, H.P. University, comments: "I was horrified to see that this massive volume in three parts covering 3500 pages and 2000 documents did not carry a comprehensive index Which is very essential in any compilation of documents of this nature."

Let us look at another volume published under the project, edited by Dr Basudev Chatterji, for the year 1938. The edition consists of three volumes running into about 4000 pages and thematically chapterised. The documents include such topics as 'Cinema Industry in India' (pp.926-929, part-I of volume- II), 'Handicaps of the Indian film Industry' (pp-929, part-I, Vol. II), 'Newsreel service in Indian' (pp.931, 939-941, 842-950, part-I, Vol. II), etc. One wonders What direct bearing these have on the Freedom Struggle. The volumes also include a number of superfluous documents on agrarian legislation, Bengal-Bihari controversy and even communal politics Which only highlights the differences between Hindus and Muslim.

The General Editor, an ailing man, could not have corrected such deficiencies in these volumes. He failed even to write the preface to these volumes as he acknowledges that the first drafts for both the volumes (1983 & 1943-44) were first drafted by Dr Basudev Chatterji. One could imagine his contribution to these volumes.

The then Chairman S. Settar, on the other hand, was unrelenting. In a long letter to the General Editor, S. Gopal (dt. 1-2-1999) he wrote, "there is some amount of concern among some senior scholars, who I believe to be objective in their evaluation and constructive in their criticism about the volumes published so far. The volume of Professor P.S. Gupta has raised eye brows of many for the major body of the material is stated to have been drawn from one category of sources (Intelligence Report) and published without even proper index and other such requirements expected in a volume of this kind. Some are not happy even with the introduction written to the volume. The next volume of Basudev Chatterji is an impressive as that of Dr Gupta in terms of quantity but its quality seems to have already evoked some concern. I do not know the quality contents of the other volume which are in press or nearing completion.

Recently some efforts are being made to convince me that every one of these volume needs to be scrutinised by an Expert Committee before it is sent to the press. In the recent Council meeting also a lengthy discussion took place on this and other related issues. If the reviews of these volumes were to make some adverse comments on the quality of the work, things are likely to be more complicated. I am trying my best to resist interference of outside scholars in the project".

Having burnt its fingers, once, nay, twice, the ICHR would naturally be more cautious in publishing further volumes without scrutinising the contents and the presentation. The violent protests, however, from the Marxists and their fellow travellers seem to originate from the view that they are afraid of losing their grip over an institution like the ICHR, paving the way for other such academic institution to shed their Marxist tags.

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