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/ History / Action Alert /

Fascist Attack on History and Secular Historians in India
1. An appeal to all concerned
2. Reports, Documents, Interviews

An Appeal

Dear Friend,

The shadow of Fascism is looming large over the practice of history writing in India. The consequences of taking over of all the institutions of research and academic policy-making by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and filling them with RSS-linked nominees are now coming into play. It is indicative of the strength and excellence of secular historiography in India that it is now being seen as necessary by the Sangh Pariver (RSS linked organisations) to embark on a massive drive of crude suppression of academic freedom of the historian before it begins its long-cherished project of ‘re-writing’ India’s past.

The BJP policy on education has involved a major doctoring of school texts in the states ruled by the BJP, and there has also been a systematic and continuous attack on secular historiography, on democratic cultural expression and on minorities. It also needs to be stressed that these developments need to be opposed by all democratic people all over the world in whatever ways possible. International public opinion would certainly carry some weight.  It would be nice if the matter could also be taken up at the level of different academic associations (a Historical Association, a Sociological Association, etc., and also a body concerned with south Asian or Asian studies), and they could perhaps express their concern to the Indian government.

In the face of a lot of lies being propagated by the BJP Government and its nominees who now control the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and because not all the information is available to those who feel deeply concerned about the manner in which two volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Professor Panikkar dealing with the freedom movement have been arbitrarily and without warning withdrawn from the Press by the ICHR, we are sending you some additional material--some press clippings from various newspapers, reports of protests against this condemnable act, statements of the people concerned and other historians’ statements all of which give some details that you may find useful in further formulating your opinion and convincing others. It also needs to be stressed that this is not an isolated act.

We would like you to look at our websites AKHBAR and SOUTH ASIA DOCUMENTS on some of the material on these and related developments.

 Reports, Documents, Interviews


On the Withdrawal of the Towards Freedom Volumes by the ICHR
Statement to the press by Professor Irfan Habib (Former Chairman, ICHR)

The withdrawal of the Towards Freedom volumes by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is a major attack on the principle of academic freedom and the cause of scientific history.

Having been acquainted with the history of the project as a member of the Council of the ICHR from 1972 to 1978 and as Chairman of the ICHR from 1986 to 1993, I would like to give some particulars which are relevant to the debate on the present decision.

When the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was established in 1972, the Government of India decided to entrust to it (in collaboration with the National Archives) a project to publish documents belonging to the period 1937-47, so as to illumine the way in which the freedom of our country was obtained. Many wished that there should be a reply from the Indian side to the Transfer of Power volumes officially published from London, which were considered as one-sided and tendentious. The ICHR, however, decided that the effort should be to publish documents not merely to present an alternative "official" view, but to throw light on all aspects of the National Movement, embracing both apex and popular politics. It was to be as objective a collection as possible. Thus documents were to be collected from the National Archives (NAI), on which a large NAI team worked, and from other public and private sources (including State Archives), on which the ICHR team worked. An enormous mass of material was collected, but the work of analysis and editing proceeded rather slowly. In 1985 a volume appeared, edited by Dr. P.N. Chopra, covering the year 1937.

When I took over as Chairman, ICHR, in the autumn of 1986, I found that the work was proceeding very slowly. There was also widespread criticism of the published volume as not having done justice to the rich documentation. However, there was no question of withdrawing it: and the statement to this effect attributed to the present Chairman of ICHR, Mr. BR Grover, is entirely baseless. When the volume did not sell well, and the then distributor reported this fact (in 1991, if I remember right), the distributor was changed, and the stock transferred to another firm of distributors in the hope that better results might be forthcoming. This offers absolutely no analogy to the present case.

The needs of the project made it necessary for the volumes to be prepared simultaneously, and accordingly steps in this direction were taken in 1989-90. It was very gratifying that, with Professor S. Gopal as the General Editor, eminent historians agreed to edit individual volumes. The entire project was entrusted to the Editorial Committee, and the volume editors Professors Bipan Chandra, Ravinder Kumar, Mushirul Hasan, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, along with the late Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta, proceeded to scrutinise the huge pile of documents, classifying and selecting them. Dr Basudev Chatterji subsequently joined the team as Coordinating Editor; he also undertook the task of editing one of the volumes.

Though my term as Chairman, ICHR, ended early in 1993, 1 was very happy when in 1997 Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta's three volumes were published, covering the years 1943-44. These constitute a monumental testimony to his industry and vision. It is especially unfortunate that a Deputy Director of the ICHR should raise the issues of some inoffensive misprints (the responsibility of the ICHR/publisher not of the editor), to throw mud on this work. Some of his remarks like Gandhiji being merely relegated to footnotes or there being no list of contents, have been proved to he totally false.

For some years, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, now the HRD Minister, and Mr. Arun Shourie, one of the Sangh Parivar's chief propagandists (now rewarded for his pains with a seat in the Union Ministry) had been talking themselves hoarse on the expenditure and the long time taken by the Towards Freedom Project, as if this was due to some lapse by the so-called "Left" historians. It is of some interest to consider when the main expenditure was incurred. This was precisely when the present "saffron" Chairman of the ICHR, Mr B.R. Grover, a luminary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad team on the Babri Masjid, was in office .is "Director (Academic)” of the ICHR (from 1974 to 1985). The Government of India's expenditure on the Project ceased on 31.3.1992, and so the editors who began their work in 1990 can hardly be held responsible for the alleged malexpenditure that took place in Mr. Grover's time. But, instead of being arraigned for the fault of excessive expenditure on the project, Mr. Grover (who is not a Professor, nor holder of a Ph.D. degree, nor author of any book, nor "Founder Director" of ICHR, as claimed by him) has been rewarded by being appointed Chairman. ICHR. Now he heads a Council already saffronised wholesale, and has been given the task of imposing the RSS-VHP agenda on it. Clearly, then, the concern with the large expenditure on the Towards Freedom Project is a purely manufactured one in order to divert public attention.

As for delay, if the task of editing was to be well performed, it could not be hastened in a mindless fashion. One of the editors has rightly pointed out that he had to scan over 100,000 documents to make his selection. The editors have received no remuneration for the task done (an honorarium ofRs.25,000 was promised after publication of each set of volumes). Yet they have carried out the work with dedication, with one set printed and three more sets sent to press. If after reaching this stage the volumes are to be withdrawn, who then is causing the delay?

The withdrawal is being justified on petty technical grounds--all proving to be false. Mr. Grover told the press that the volumes had been sent to the publishers (Oxford University Press) without them being shown to his predecessor. Professor S. Settar. The production of Professor Settar's own Foreword to one of the volumes has given a lie to this allegation, wherein he" refers to his gratification at having sent the other volumes to the press as well.

The volumes are being withdrawn supposedly to be screened. Screened by whom? Of Mr. Grover's own modest qualifications (even in the field of Mughal Indian history), I have already written. He has appointed a committee of "experts", of whom, after resignations took care of at least two, there remains none who is a historian of the National Movement or even a historian. How these persons can have the presumption to censor the work of historians of the stature of Professors S. Gopal, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, defies imagination. Only the Nazis in Germany over sixty years ago could have been capable of such presumption.

The whole matter is clear. Being in power for the moment, the RSS and the BJP are in a hurry to introduce as much of their ideology into the academic world as they can. The Towards Freedom volumes are crucial for them. Any honest presentation of documents would show the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and their other 'family members' for what they were-- loyal servants of the British raj, and poison-spewers against Gandhiji and all genuine nationalists. They are therefore determined to prevent an impartial publication of documents, and are out to project those who tried to undermine the National Movement as true freedom fighters. From the inscriptions they have been putting on statutes, of non-entities, their false history is now ready to leap into the publications of the NCERT, ICSSR, and other official bodies, but. above all, of the 1CHR.

Such a gross doctoring of history and its diffusion needs to be prevented. One does not have in mind only the honour of the National Movement, or the cause of academic freedom. The battle is for the nation's mind, and that concerns the future of us all.



97, Radbakrishnan Salai,
Mylapore, Madras-600 004.

Media Statement by Professor S. Gopal, General Editor,

On the ICHR's decision to withdraw the volumes of ‘Towards Freedom’

February 21, 2000

I learn from newspaper reports that the Indian Council of Historical Research has withdrawn the volumes of Towards Freedom edited by Professor K.N. Panikkar and Professor Sumit Sarkar. These volumes were submitted to me by the editors and after incorporating the changes suggested by me were forwarded to the Oxford University Press by the Chairman of the 1CHR. It is, therefore, surprising that the ICHR has accused my colleagues of forwarding the typescripts to OUP without the knowledge of the Council.

The unilateral decision of the ICHR to withdraw the volumes and subject them to a review without consulting the General Editor and the volume editors is a violation of the terms under which the project was conceived and executed. It also amounts to an infringement of the academic rights and freedom of the authors who were invited by the ICHR to undertake this work. Apart from the personal discourtesy, it is disturbing and unethical that a purely academic exercise should involve intervention by officials.

S. Gopal
General Editor ICHR Project, Towards Freedom

Towards Freedom: the larger Sangh design

Column by Prof. KN Panikkar
in The Hindustal Times, February 20, 2000

Once again the project, Towards Freedom, sponsored jointly by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) and the National Archives of India, is in the news. This time for reasons stranger than fiction.

The typescripts of two volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and myself, which were being processed by the Oxford University Press (OUP) for publication, have been withdrawn by the Council for 'perusal' without assigning any reason. ICHR has not observed the minimum propriety of informing the authors about this deci­sion. But for the professional commitment of OUP, the authors would have remained ignorant.

Responding to the public outcry against this unprecedented move, ICHR has alleged that the typescripts were directly given to OUP without its knowledge which, to say the least, is far from the truth. My typescript and the floppy were handed over in 1995 to the then chairman, and a copy to the general editor of the series. ICHR has duly acknowledged the receipt of the typescript, and a former chairman is on record that he has for­warded the. typescript to OUP. The present chairman is either deliberate­ly concealing it or is ignorant of what happened in the project before he took over.

The withdrawal is credited to the concern of ICHR and indeed of the human resource development ministry to ensure the academic quality of the publications of the Council. The intention is indeed noble and laudable, though not the practice as evident from the constitution of the committee that is to conduct a review of “the qualitative and quantitative progress” (whatever that means) made by ichr, an autonomous body of professional historians, and various projects undertaken by it.

The committee consists of two retired bureaucrats and a former archaeologist-administrator! One of them resigned after the first meeting, reportedly in disgust, and was replaced by, a historian specialising in ancient Indian history. The volumes of Towards Freedom have been recalled from the press for the review of this committee.

There are two basic objections to subjecting the volumes to the review of this committee. However eminent the members of this committee are, they are not professionally competent to review a work of documentary history. I am surprised that unlike the member who resigned, the, others agreed to sit in judgment over a discipline about which they have no knowledge.

Equally surprisingly, the human resource development minister, who had once served in a university, violated all academic norms in constitut­ing this committee. Surely, a bunch of bureaucrats will not be asked to review a project on nuclear science. Or is it that commitment to Hindutva will override all other considerations under the new dispensation? But then, the ministry's review committees are generally meant to look into administrative and not professional matters of institutions under its care. That is a distinction both the ministry and ICHR seem to overlook.

The second objection is related to the academic freedom and rights of the editors of these volumes. When they were entrusted with this work in 1989--they had no connection with this project before that --it was clearly understood that they were answerable onlyto the General Editor, Professor S. Gopal, and that his decision in matters of content and form would be final. No other individual or committee was supposed to exercise any control. It was under this condition that the editors had agreed to undertake this work.

These volumes were submitted to the scrutiny of the general editor who had suggested some modifications, which were carried out. In the event, the present attempt of ICHR to impose a committee external to the discipline of history is an infringement of the academic rights and freedom of the editors, and alters the terms under which the project was conceived and executed.

A peer review is never unacceptable to scholars. I, for one, would welcome it, but not a review as envisioned by the ministry. By conceding the demand of the ministry, ICHR has compromised its autonomy, I suspect, for political reasons. It is a pity that ICHR is now manned by people who are insensitive to the academic implications of the loss of autonomy.

The volumes now being recalled are the result of several years of labour. The present editors started working on them in 1989, and collected documents from almost all archival repositories in India. They are culled from government records, institutional papers, private correspondence and newspapers.

The documents in the volume I have edited are selected from about 150,000 pages collected from these sources. It has taken me about six years to complete the work. While it was under preparation, there were several ill-informed and perhaps motivated criticisms, both about the delay and the money expended on the project. It is paradoxical, therefore, that attempts are now being made to stall the publication.

Incidentally, the editor's remuneration is limited to Rs25,000 payable only after completion of the work. As such, .contrary to the impression sought to be created by some ideologues of the Sangh Parivar, like other editors, I have also not received any money from ICHR.

One wonders why the volumes have been withdrawn. One possible reason is. the fear about their contents, which is reflected in the statements of both the chairman of ICHR and the general secretary of the BJP. There is a general suspicion in the Hindutva camp that these volumes, being documentary histories, might| contain incontroveftible evidence about the collaboration of Hindu communal forces with colonialism. And that is likely to damage forever the possible projectfon of the RSS leaders as freedom fighters. Discrediting the authors of these vol umes and preventing their publication is rooted in this political logic. The former was attempted by an ideologe of Hindutva sometime back, and the chairman of ICHR is now| engaged in the latter.

What is happening to 'Towards Freedom is not an isolated instance. It is part of a larger design of the Sangh Parivar to transform India into a Hindu Nation. The disruption of the shooting of Water, the blackening of the face of a schoolteacher in Goa, and the intimidation of the citizens in, Lucknow are unmistakable forebodings of fast-emerging fascist conditions in our country. The withdrawal of these volumes has to be located in this larger context.


Letter by KN Panikkar to OUP

Dear Mr. Advani,

Thank you for your letter of 9 Feb. and a copy of the communication from the ICHR withholding the publication of Towards Freedom volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and myself. I am quite surprised by this rather unexpected decision of the ICHR, which has not been conveyed to me so far.

From the ICHR letter it appears that the reason for withdrawing the typescripts is to enable the Council/ Review committee to ‘peruse’ them. My typescript has remained with the Council for five years, as it was handed over to the ICHR officials in 1995. It was then ‘perused’ by the General Editor, Prof. S. Gopal, who had suggested some modifications, which were carried out. According to the terms initially offered by the ICHR there is no provision for review by any person or committee other than the General Editor. The present attempt to submit the typescript to a fresh review is therefore uncalled for and an infringement of the terms under which I had undertaken this work. In the light of the above I suggest the following:

1. The OUP may consult Prof. Gopal before returning the typescript to the ICHR

2. The ICHR may be asked to spell out the reasons for withholding publication.

I do not know the terms of the agreement between the OUP and the ICHR. But I wonder whether the ICHR can unilaterally withhold publication without consulting the authors, as it some way impinges upon the academic freedom of the authors. I shall be thankful for informing me about further developments in the matter.
With Regards,

K.N. Panikkar

Mr. Rukun Advani
Oxford University Press
1 Floor, YMCA Library Building,
Jaisingh Road, New Delhi-110001

(Note:  Mr. Rukun Advani has left OUP since. In an intriguing, hopefully unrelated, development, Rukun and his wife Anuradha Roy, both working for a long time at OUP, were forced to leave OUP by the management on the plea that spouses working in the same office is not acceptable to the concern. The marriage is not new. They were married two years ago and have been together much longer.)


Press Staement by historians

The “Towards Freedom" project of the Indian Council of Historical Research aimed at bringing together documents which shed light on various aspects of the National Movement during the ten years preceding Freedom. It took much time for the collection from various archival and private sources to be made. Finally, historians, led by Professor S. Gopal as General Editor, began the work of final editing as a result of which the printing of the volumes has begun. Three of the volumes covering the years 1943-44 edited by the Late Professor Parthasarathi Gupta and three volumes covering the year 1938 edited by Basudev Chatterjee have already been published by the Oxford University Press. All students of the National Movement have been naturally looking forward to the rich additions the volumes would make to the knowledge of such a crucial period of our history.

It is, therefore, extremely disturbing to read in the press that the ICHR, which was duly "saffronized" in 1998 has decided to withdraw two further volumes (edited by Professor Sumit Sarkar and Professor K.N.Panikkar) that are already with the publishers, ostensibly for “ a review”. It is strange that while the gentlemen of the Sangh Parivar, with the MHRD Minister, Shri Murli Manohar Joshi himself in the van, had been crying hoarse over the delay in the project, they are now rushing to stop its completion, through their nominees in the ICHR.

It is clear that the withdrawal of these volumes is part of the plan to spread a distorted and fictitious history of the National Movement, in which those like the RSS luminaries who had never participated in it, are to be given the pride of place. The action also amounts to the grossest form of censorship, even if one forgets the presumption involved in anyone coming forward to screen the work of such eminent historians as those who are editing, the Towards Freedom volumes. The Sangh Parivar has, of course, no thought that by this action of censorship they are destroying the entire credibility of this project.

Both as historians and citizens we strongly deplore this action and call upon all concerned, including Parliament, to join in the endeavour to save the Towards Freedom Project and ensure the publication of all the volumes expeditiously and without any censorship.

Prof. Ravinder Kumar, Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. R.S.Sharma, Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. Irfan Habib. Former Chairman, ICHR
Prof. K.M. Shrimali
Prof. D.N. Jha
Prof. Suvira Jaiswal
Prof. Shirin Moosvi
Prof. Aniruddha Ray
Prof. Ramakrishna Chatterji
Prof. Iqtidar Alam Khan
Prof. Venkat Subramaniyan
Prof. A.P. Sharma
Prof. R.N. Shukla
Prof. H.C. Verma
Prof. S.R. Singh
Prof. H.C. Satyarthi
Prof. V. Ramakrishna
Prof. C.P.N. Sinha
Najaf Haider
Inayat Zaidi
Sunita Zaidi
Amar Farooqui
Pradeep Kant
V.Krishna Ananth
Suchitra Gupta
Suresh Srivastava
Biswamoy Pati
Rajendra Prasad


Letter by co researchers on Prof Parthasarathi's volume
which also has been attacked by the BJP nominees in the ICHR)
published in The Hindustan Times

Baseless Accusations

Recently the ICHR criticised the work of Parthasarathi Gupta, one of the editors of the 'Towards Freedom' project (covering the period 1943-44). We had the privilige of working with Gupta on the project. We are deeply sadened to see his work attacked on baseless and flimsy grounds by the ICHR. Since he lives no more to defend his work we feel it is our moral duty as his former co-workers to set the record straight. Gupta was a true intellectual and carried out this editorial assignment in that spirit. We were constantly reminded of the need for a balanced viewpoint in the selection of documents, in the representation of different sections of society which played a role during the independence movement in that period. Regardless of his own ideological position, Mr Gupta stressed the need to make the document comprehensive and bereft of any individual bias. We know this because we had to work that much harder to satisfy his desire for perfection.

Kantha Ramaswami, Arun Kumar and others


Minister Joshi misleading Parliament: former ICHR Chief  Prof. S. Settar
(Report by By V.Krishna Ananth in The Hindu, March 4, 2000)

Chennai, March 3. The controversial decision by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) to hold back the publication of two volumes of the `Towards Freedom' project took a new turn today with Prof. S. Settar, former Chairperson of the council, today maintaining that the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, of “misleading Parliament” while replying to questions on the issue today.

In a telephonic conversation with The Hindu from Dharwad, Prof. Settar said that a letter he had written to Prof. S. Gopal, that was cited by Dr. Joshi in the Rajya Sabha today, “was only in order to convey to him some views relating to some technical shortcomings, expressed by others, in the volume already published (edited by Prof. Parthasarathy Gupta) and to find out from him, as general editor, as to whether such things as a subject index could be included in the forthcoming volumes”.

Expressing shock over the way in which Dr. Joshi sought to justify the ICHR's decision to put the two volumes on hold, Prof. Settar - citing the correspondence between him and Prof. Gopal - said, “At no stage did I have any doubt over the quality of the work by various scholars under Prof. S. Gopal's editorship.”

“The Minister's statement in Parliament has taken out of context the letter I had written in my capacity as Chairperson of the Council to the general editor... All that I did was to convey the concerns expressed involving some technical aspects of the published volume and wanted to know if there were any truth in them.”

Referring to Dr. Joshi's statement in the Rajya Sabha, which Prof. Settar said he happened to watch on television this morning, “an impression appears to have been created that the volumes were recalled due to my comment”. This, he added, is far from the truth. “At no stage during the three years of my Chairpersonship was a resolution passed by any of the ICHR's bodies to recall or review the work in progress,” he said, and stressed that “on the contrary, as many as five volumes (including the ones edited by Prof. K.N. Panikkar and Prof. Sumit Sarkar) had passed through the council and none of them was smuggled to press as is being alleged.”

As regards Dr. Joshi's contention that the manuscripts were not sent to press through the proper channel (the Publications Department of the ICHR), Prof. Settar dismissed it as “superfluous.”

“The `Towards Freedom' project was monitored by a separate cell under the direct supervision of the Chairperson by Dr. Basudev Chatterjee (who was also designated editorial coordinator apart from being the volume editor for the 1938 volume). It was his responsibility to send the manuscripts to press, read the proof and attend to the publication.”

Prof. Settar had a similar complaint against Dr. Joshi's statement in the Rajya Sabha about the constitution of a committee to review the manuscripts; it is the ICHR's contention that the volumes were recalled only because they were not sent through the review committee, set up for this very purpose by a resolution of the council in its meeting on August 31 and September 1, 1999.

Describing this too as “partial truth”, Prof. Settar stressed that the committee was set up for the explicit purpose of “streamlining and expediting the publication in future” and that the proposed three-member committee, with Prof. B.R. Nanda as Chairperson, had nothing to do with the volumes, including the ones by Prof. Panikkar and Prof. Sarkar, that were already scrutinised and cleared for publication by the ICHR.


Intellectuals warn of Fascistic designs

On February 18, hundreds of academicians, artists, intellectuals, students, youth and women activists demonstrated in front of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) at New Delhi, protesting its decision to withdraw from publication the two volumes, one edited by Professor Sumit Sarkar and one by Professor K N Panikkar, that are part of the Towards Freedom project. The demonstrators demanded that the two said volumes be immediately released for publication, and called upon all progressive, democratic and secular forces to resist all attempts to commualise history.

On this occasion. Professor Panikkar said this was not merely a question of publishing a book or two; the role of the central government in this whole episode must be exposed. Professor Prabhat Patnaik said we are witnessing the onset of fascism in the country. Professor Aijaz Ahmad warned those assembled that sinister attempts are being made to rewrite history, and these have to be resisted. Dr Uma Chakravarty said even to talk about the oppression of widows has become a crime in India today. According to John Dayal, such incidents are not the doings of a lunatic fringe as is sometimes argued; entire Sangh Parivar is responsible for them.

Other speakers at the meeting also emphasised that the ICHR episode must not be seen in isolation. They argued that the attack on the shooting of the film Water, the vandalism at Kanpur on Valentine Day, the attempts to subvert the constitution, attempts by the RSS to infiltrate the state machinery, continuing attacks on the minorities, especially Christians - all these are parts of a larger design to impose fascism in India.

Others to speak on this occasion were Neera Chandhoke, Gargi Chakravarty, K M Shrimali, Badri Raina, Manorajan Mohanty and Anupam Shrivastava. Murli Manohar Prasad Singh chaired the meeting and Prabir Purkayastha read out the resolution.

The meeting was attended by a large number of prominent personalities. These included Sumit Sarkar, Vivan Sundaram, Neeladri Bhattacharya, D N Jha, Geeta Kapur, C P Chandrasekhar, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Moloyashree Hashmi, Javed Malick, Anuradha Kapur, Narayani Gupta, Tanika Sarkar, Prabhu Mahapatra, Kalindi Deshpande, Sehba Farooqui, Ram Rahman, Gauhar Raza, M K Raina, Geeta Hariharan, P M S Grewal and Ambrose Pinto, among others.

The organisations which organised the demonstration were: Democratic Teacher's Front, DYFI, SFI, Jana Natya Manch, Janawadi Lekhak Sangh, Jan Sanskriti, Janawadi Mahila Samiti, MediaStorm, SAHMAT, Jan Sankriti Manch, Delhi Union of Journalists, Delhi Science Forum, PDSU, Action India, Nishant Natya Manch, Jan Hastakshep, AISA, Citizens' Forum for Secularism, Jan Paksh, PSU, National Federation of Indian Women, Janwadi Shikshak Manch, Lok Dasta, AIFTU, Saheli, Insani Ekta Muhim, PUDR, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, BEFI, ALAWU, CWDS and JNU Students Union.

Later, on February 19, as per a decision of the same assemblage, a meeting was held in V P House lawns. Rafi Marg, to chart out the future course of action. (INN)


A March in Defense of Democracy

Report of the massive demonstration on 25th March
by Nalini Taneja

The growing attacks on academic freedom and democratic cultural expression by the BJP government and its affiliates that constitute the Sangh Parivar have evoked widespread protests all over the country. Central to these attacks is the suppression of secular history writing and teaching. School textbooks have been rewritten in the states ruled by the BJP to suit their long-term fascistic design of undermining the secular state and the pluralistic traditions of our country. These books define the nation as all right wing political tendencies do, i.e., in exclusivist terms. In the realm of higher education their designs cannot be achieved without both privatizing education, which helps to gear the educational setup to serve those who can pay well, and by inculcating a sectarian mindset in those who receive higher education so that they perceive their aims and goals in life in the narrowest terms. Ultimately, exclusivity works against the minorities, the unprivileged and the dispossessed, who can be more easily transformed into the perceived marginal in any sectarian, undemocratic and exclusivist enterprise. Perceptions of the nation's history and culture are crucial in this regard.

It is in this context that we must see the withdrawal of the two volumes of the 'Towards Freedom' Project edited by Professors Sumit Sarkar and KN Panikkar and the strong-arm methods by the Sangh Parivar that have become a routine everyday affair in the face of the refusal of the govt. to stem their tide, and on the other hand the strong disapproval expressed by a cross section of people throughout the country to their actions, representing the voice of secular, democratic and pluralistic India.

There is an urge to unite in defense of democracy in the face of fascistic attempts to divide people along the lines of religion, to curb civil liberties and citizenship rights, to assert violence against the secular voice and expression of difference, to ride roughshod against popular aspirations for a better life, to destroy their safeguards against being marginalized by trying to change the Constitution. There is greater anger at the all too familiar right wing Goebelsian method of resorting to pure lies from every avenue of institutional medium in their control, and to transform a falsity repeated again and again into a 'truth'. False charges of corruption to undermine the authority of those they classify as enemies are resorted to by them at the drop of a hat. The Sangh Parivar in its bid for the mind of the Indian people is resorting to every method in the guidebook of Nazi Germany in order to shift the terrain of political debate to the Right and away from the questions of people's livelihood and survival. .

 Sections of society that have come out in vocal protest include teachers and students, artists and writers, theatre persons, those in the media, and organizations of the working people and the youth. Big meetings have been held in Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, Baroda, Trivandrum, and many other places. Resolutions condemning the actions of the Sangh Parivar and their assault on reason and democratic expression have been sent to the press by mass organizations representing all sections of the Indian people. There have been protest marches and dharnas in Universities and other workplaces. Letters to the press, campaigns on Internet, mass signatures on a petition to the Prime Minister from the four Universities in Delhi and from academics all over the world, statements from intellectuals in India and abroad almost everyday are a reflection of the anger and anguish at what the Sangh Parivar is doing to this country.

In this context a massive demonstration was held in Delhi by 'Citizens in Defense of Democracy' representing a broad alliance of teachers, students, artists, media persons, writers and other professions, which culminated with a Resolution opposing the policies of the BJP Government. Slogans rent the air throughout the march and the subsequent public meeting held at the point where the armed police deployed by the Government physically prevented the protesters from proceeding further to the gates of the Parliament. Placards denouncing the Sangh Parivar expressed distaste for its actions. The slogans identified and likened the RSS to Hitler. Thousands of leaflets with the text of the resolution were distributed throughout the march, and received well by passersby. The meeting strongly condemned the systematic assault on secular and democratic culture, voiced its dissent to the politics of authoritarianism, the sectarian rewriting of school text books, the attacks on minorities, and the attempts to define the nation irrationally as Hindu, to deliberately confuse democracy with majoritarianism based on religion.

Professor Sumit Sarkar and Professor KN Panikkar, whose two volumes on the freedom movement are sought to be withdrawn by the BJP Government, addressed the meeting. Professor Panikkar underlined the fact that the attack on these two volumes, as well as the systematic campaign against secular historians was part of the attempt to suppress and silence all criticism against the government and to undermine secularism in this country. It was a part of the larger design of falsification of history, a secular interpretation of which was perceived as a threat in their endeavour to define the nation in their own terms. Professor Sumit Sarkar pointed out that the volumes for their largest part contained documents, and the Sangh Parivar was bent on withdrawing all such collections, as these would expose the lies of these right wing forces. These show beyond doubt that far from being at the forefront of the fight for freedom, the ideologues of the Hindutva forces had no role to play in the freedom movement.

The meeting ended with a pledge to resolutely carry forward the struggle against the right wing forces in defense of democracy.


Resolution of the Citizens March in Defence of Democracy on 25th February 

A reign of terror has been let loose by the BJP and its organisations - the Vishwa Hindu Parishad the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal, the Sanskriti Raksha Manch, etc. - all of whom owe allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The proclaimed agenda of the RSS is the destruction of our society, as we know it - where different communities live in harmony while following diverse social and cultural norms. This is to be replaced by a regimented state that has no room for minorities, dissent or differences. As promised, they have set in motion a continuing chain of communal violence. The image of Graham Staines and his two little sons, burning alive in their jeep for the single crime of being Christians, is a living symbol of what this regime stands for. Their attacks have targeted all sections -- singers, artists, cultural organizations, film-makers, historians. They have started changing syllabi and textbooks to project their version of the country's ethos and history. In Goa they blackened the face of a teacher for setting questions, which they decided, were not "patriotic". They will not rest until they can dictate all aspects of our lives - even what we wear, eat, read, or think. 

Nor have they spared "Hindus", as they try to define what a Hindu is. Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students' wing of the BJP, led an attack on women students wearing western clothes in UP. The RSS may well be asked why they prefer "western" khaki shorts to dhotis! 

But then, hypocrisy comes easily to these people. While they violently disrupt rock concerts, a beaming Bal Thackeray eagerly greets Michael Jackson. They applauded Taslima Nasreen when she attacks the Muslim communalists in her country, but now they demand she be punished because she condemns the Hindu communalists who forcibly stopped the shooting of Water. They claim to fight Westernisation while their government mortgages the country's economic sovereignty to the West --allows foreign companies into the insurance sector, and now eagerly bends over backwards to welcome the American President. 

They project all evils as emanating from the west. But how do they propose to deal with what we have perfected with no help from the West? The shooting of the film Water was disrupted for allegedly portraying Hindu widows in a negative manner. Is the pathetic condition of Hindu widows any secret? Every school child knows about great reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotiba Phule who had the confidence to fight injustices in our society, pertaining to the plight of widows. Literature and films in all Indian languages, have for long, dealt with the theme. Why do these present-day custodians of Hindu culture object only to a film that will be seen largely in the West? 

They have started the process of a so-called review of the Constitution. Who is to conduct this review? The Constitution represents years of discussion and debate within different sections of those who fought for our Independence. Is it to be "reviewed" by a committee, the majority of whom owe allegiance to the ideology of the RSS? 

The RSS is even attempting to doctor history to suit their aims. First, the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was packed with historians of dubious repute whose only merit was that they owe allegiance to the RSS's ideology. Then books written by two of the leading historians in the country on the Freedom Movement, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, which were already in the Press, were withdrawn for a "review". Why are the RSS and the BJP afraid of these books, which are essentially a compilation of primary documents pertaining to the period just before Independence? Is it because it will expose the dubious role played by the RSS during the independence movement:' Is this why they need to doctor the past? 

Nobody is safe from these forces. They are our very own Bharatiya Taliban. They are anti-democracy, anti-working people, anti-women. When the people of this country are crying out for relief against a social order that is increasingly pauperising the majority of the people, this Taliban would like us to fight Valentine's Day and Water. Let us fight together to defeat the designs of this Taliban, wherever we are. Let us raise our voices and say--this country is ours.


Upper House adjourned after turmoil over ICHR issue
(Report in The Hindu, March 4, 2000)

New Delhi, March 3. The Rajya Sabha (The Upper House of the Parliament) was today thrown into a turmoil for about half an hour over the controversial withdrawal of two volumes of `Towards Freedom' series by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) as the Opposition stalled proceedings and forced an abrupt adjournment of the House till lunch.

Trouble arose when the Human Resources Development Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, defended ICHR's move while replying to a question by CPI(M) member, Mr. Nilotpal Basu.

Agitated over the Minister's defence of the move, the entire Opposition, led by Mr. Manmohan Singh, demanded a half-an- hour discussion on the issue.

Though the Chairperson, Mr. Krishan Kant, announced that question hour was over, the Opposition members were unrelenting. Sensing the mood, Mr. Kant adjourned the House for lunch.

The entire Opposition was again on its feet when Dr. Joshi said the 1943-44 volume of the `Towards Freedom' series, edited by Mr. P.S. Gupta, contained more documents about the ``role of communists'' in the freedom movement than on ``(Mahatma) Gandhi's charisma''.

Dr. Joshi said that the ICHR had requested the publisher, Oxford University Press, to “temporarily withhold” publication of the two volumes written by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Prof. K.N. Panikkar to ensure that the ``lapses and drawbacks'' found in the earlier volume were not repeated.

He said the ICHR Chairperson and the deputy director of publications had raised objections about the earlier volume edited by Mr. Gupta. The two volumes would be reviewed by a committee comprising Prof. Satish Mittal, Prof. Hari Om and Prof. A.R. Khan. While the Opposition said none of the committee members is a modern Indian historian, the Minister all the three were eminent historians.

The Minister said that in the past also the then ICHR chairman, Prof. Irfan Habib, had withheld publication of the 1938 volume of the series to improve the contents. “Therefore, there is nothing new in it,” Dr. Joshi added.

In his written reply, he said that as per the agreement between the ICHR and the publisher, the copyright rested with the council. In its December 12, 1999 meeting, the ICHR had decided that the volumes still to be published should not be sent for publication without the review by the council, he said. - PTI


Corrosive Fascist Onslaughts
(Editorial in The Hindu. February 19, 2000)

The patently unjustifiable move by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) to withhold from publication two volumes, of the ongoing project on India's freedom struggle, by eminent historians Professor Sumit Sarkar of the Delhi University and Professor K. N Panikkar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, ostensibly for a review of all ICHR projects, smacks of the repressive culture of sabotage and bans on intellectual and creative activities that is distinctly emerging in recent weeks. The Sangh Parivar's persistent attempts to distort Indian history in line with-its own ideological moorings is indeed-all-too-well-known. If the public burning of copies of widely-acclaimed progressive historiography of Indian society characterised the ascendant phase of the Sangh Parivar in the country's political arena, blatant attempts to tinker with the functioning of apex research institutions has come to mark its wobbly two-year-old regime. The ICHR in particular has been at the receiving end of the BJP's machinations ever since the party, with utter disregard for norms of professional competence and impartiality; packed the body with men swearing allegiance to the RSS and its fraternal organisations.

The withdrawal of the books in question, coming as it does in quick succession to the lifting of the ban on state government servants in Gujarat participating in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the sabotaging of the shooting of Ms Deepa Mehta's film, Water, should leave no one in doubt about the mindless and militant pursuit of the divisive majoritarian agenda - all within the rubric of a democratic polity. The familiar alibi in all this is the catchphrase "majority sentiments are wounded", lending legitimacy to the view that in the name of "democracy", the majority can ride roughshod over the minority - whether this constitutes women or religious minorities. Few if any can afford any longer not to realise that it is mere lip service that is paid to democratic politics and the plural ethos it necessarily engenders by the zealots of the Parivar and the BJP dispensation. After all the Parivar has by a sleight of the electoral hand as itwere managed to coopt into the National Democratic Alliance po­litical forces radically opposed to its own ideological persuasions. Not surprisingly therefore, whenever deliberately provocative sectarian proclamations dictated by adherence to ideology raise political tempers to unmanageable heights, it is swiftly matched by a pragmatic and almost about-turn disclaimer of doctrine.

Thus, true to its fascist majoritarian outlook, the Sangh Parivar has been steadily and systematically scuttling the country's democratic process, eroding the pluralist socio-cultural ethos with its own excluvist and divisive agenda. The BJP at the helm has deftly sought to neutralise the public outrage that has emerged as a necessary fallout of every controversial move. It has managed this by seemingly distancing itself from the controversial activities of the goons of the Sangh Parivar. Nonetheless, the political mascot of the Parivar that the BJP is, it can hardly escape having to offer an explanation for having remained a mute spectator in each single instance.


Saffron Censor: The historical record will stand
(Editorial in The Statesman, February 19, 2000)

CULTURAL policing, intellectual censorship--this is the world on offer from the BJP and its parivar. The decision of the authorities--packed with the saffron sympathizers--to suspend publication of Sumit Sarkar and K N. Panikkar's volumes in the "Towards Freedom" series is an ominous sign of what could happen in an India governed by the BJP, unrstrained by the compulsions of coalition politics. ICHR was set up principally to execute this project which envisaged a series of volumes of annotated documents along the lines of the Transfer of Power series without the latter's colonial slant. The ICHR authorities claim that volumes by P S Gupta and Basudev Chatterjee have belittled the role of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha and highlighted the role of Communists in the nationalist movement.

Generations of students of history in Delhi University will testify to their eminence --and charges of deliberate falsification are contemptible, especially when they come from people with an avowed agenda of rewriting history with a narrow, sectarian politico-cultural focus.

The decision to "review" Sarkar and Panikkar's volumes is obviously a part of the saffron censorship agenda. No reasons have been given. There are plenty of good reasons for not having a review. Both Sarkar and Panikkar are historians of high standing -- their eminence internationally recognised. Their scholarship, let alone mere competence, is not in question. Moreover, the volumes are collections of documents. To suggest a review is to question the integrity of these scholars. To do so without any stated grounds is incredibly gross, especially when it comes from a fellow historian, in this instance, B R Grover. We are driven to the conclusion that such gross, fascist behaviour is to be expected from the Sangh parivar and assorted hangers-on. In the absence of official justification, we are driven to informed speculation. Sumit Sarkar has written the finest textbook on modern Indian history. It was not a government project and was published by a reputable publishing house. It is required reading for undergraduates. Sarkar has shown that the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS kept aloof from the "Quit India" movement -- a matter of historical record. Are the parivar cohorts after Sarkar because he has exposed their antecedents? What would they have him do, falsify history to cast them as heroes? This censorship is intolerable -- and if the BJP's secular allies acquiesce in it, they will have reduced their share of power for a mess of pottage.


Scholar Soldiers
(Editorial in The Asian Age, February 19, 2000)

Insecure rulers have an abiding problem with history. More specifically, about how it will record their own actions and interpret responses of those who are their ideological mentors. They feet threatened by its sweep, and among the first things ideologically dogmatic but otherwise defensive governments do is to re-write history. The attempt is to re-fashion ideas, and the first and most palpable attack is always on textbooks. The liberal arts in general and those dealing with ideas that can fashion a viewpoint in particular are thus immediately taken up for "corrective" action, as targets for change. This crass revisionism has particularly been a problem whenever those inclined towards exclusivist viewpoints come near power. In the present case, it.is clearly the scholar-soldiers of the Hindu Divided Family as symbolised by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh who are at work. Right now, with more than just a whiff of state power in their nostrils, the commissars and gendarmes of the Sangh Parivar have well and truly unleashed themselves on what they consider to be academics hostile to their perception of things. If there was a debate instead of a diatribe, the controversy over the sudden withdrawal by the Indian Council for Historical Research of forthcoming works of two prominent historians could actually have been a blessing. But the ICHR bosses, perhaps governed by the "More loyal than the King" mentality, have acted in vulgar haste. At his level, the Union human resource development minister has been an undisguised hawk in "spite of his own well-advertised academic background. He should know that academics is an arena of enquiry informed by ideas. Dr. M M Joshi would recall his days in Allahabad University when the faculty was divided on ideological lines but that did not prevent it from still being counted among the few institutions in North India which dared to battle out ideas instead of using brute authoritarianism to muzzle them. If the ICHR's objection indeed is that the RSS role during the anti-colonial struggle is-not being properly highlighted by a section of the historians, the ideal thing for proponents of this view would be to come up with their own academic counters. There always is the proverbial Other Side, the other view to an existing or dominant one. It this kind of sharing of ideas, or exchange of viewpoints, is not allowed, a state ceases to be both democratic and pluralistic. Cultural autarkies crumble at the first possible onslaught; the Soviet Union was undone primarily because it sought to deny its people the market-driven consumer goods which were such a rage elsewhere in the world. Doors and windows can never be shut up forever, because in that case they become walls: and even walls, like the Berlin wall, can come crashing down when they become symbols of denial. Dr Joshi and those in charge of the ICHR should themselves know that for a fact. If they don't, it is just too bad for them. But apart from being bad for their own understanding, this kind of tinkering actually cuts at the very roots of the system they all claim to uphold. If a particular interpretation is unacceptable, the best way to counter it is to logically prove it to be false. Merely shutting out a given version will not help. All this, in fact, will become an unintended but excellent sales promotion drive for the publishers whose product may otherwise have conveniently lined, up library shelves inside droves of academe.


History--made to order
(The Hindu, February 27, 2000)

(The more the BJP and its thinktanks try to put an academic veneer on the controversy, the more they end up confirming that the issue is actually about settling scores with their ideological adversaries. Hasan Suroor on the ICHR row.)

Shorn of sophistry and obfuscation, there is really only one way of looking at the row over the “Towards Freedom” volumes which the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) has recalled from the press for “review”- and that is as the BJP's bid to scuttle what it perceives as a left-wing project, and to replace it with its own version of the independence movement.

The rest - the “adverse” reaction to an earlier volume, the charge that manuscripts were sent to the Oxford University Press “bypassing” the review committee, etc. - is no more than a pretext; and as the debate unfolds even Government spokesmen are not pretending that there is anything altruistic about it. Mr. Arun Shourie, defending the ICHR's action in a TV debate, has admitted that if the Congress(I) and left historians could call the shots when they were in a position to do so, it is perfectly legitimate for the present dispensation to give them “a dose of their own medicine.”

The ICHR, however, has been less candid and has come up with some extremely facetious arguments, including selectively quoting a review of the late Prof. Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume by Prof. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya to justify the recall of Professors Sumit Sarkar and K. N. Panikkar's works. Prof. Bhattacharya has charged the ICHR with “misusing” the review and said that an individual book reviewer's assessment cannot become the basis for suspending publication of the work two of the country's leading historians.

“The reviewer's freedom and the author's freedom to express opinion are at stake if the professional judgments are used for purposes of politicking in the realm of academic research,” Prof. Bhattacharya said in a stinging rejoinder to the ICHR's persistent use of his review to back its own actions.

Similarly, Prof. S. Gopal, general editor of the “Towards Freedom” project, has rebutted the charge that the Sarkar- Panikkar volumes were sent to the OUP without the Council's authorisation. In a strongly-worded statement, he has reminded the ICHR that no less a person than its own chairman had “forwarded” these to the OUP.

He has also questioned the ICHR's authority to withdraw the volumes “unilaterally” and subject them to another review without consulting him as the general editor or the volume editors, Professors Sarkar and Panikkar. This, he has said, is a “violation” of the terms under which the project was conceived and executed. The ICHR has not responded to Prof. Gopal's point and has instead gone on a fishing expedition. It has blamed the then ICHR chairman, Prof. S. Settar, for scuttling a three-member review committee which the Council had set up in 1998 and to which the “aborted” volumes should have been referred, according to the ICHR's present chairman, Mr. B. R. Grover. He has raised doubts about Prof. Settar's motives, saying:”Strangely, a meeting of this committee was never convened by the then chairman, Prof. S. Settar.” He has also accused Prof. Settar of being economical with the truth while recording the minutes of the meeting at which the committee was set up, and suggested an oblique nexus between Prof Settar and Prof Gopal on ensuring that these volumes did not go to the review committee.

All this is a red herring; the real motive behind the so-called review is to purge the “Towards Freedom” project of ideas which do not conform to the tendencies represented by the BJP; and to recast it to fit in with its own perceptions of the independence movement. There is talk of marxists' “hegemony” of the history “establishment,” and the “need” to break it. The BJP and its supporters say that they want to “rectify” what the “left” historians have done. As everyone knows, “rectification” in the context of history means only one thing: rewriting or doctoring it.

What makes it ominous is that this is the view not of just some fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar, whom the BJP is known in the past to have quickly disowned when they became an embarrassment, but of some very responsible persons in the Government. It is a sign of the times that what was once regarded as a hush-hush occupation (even Stalin did not openly declare that he was rewriting history) has now become a respectable Government policy with school textbooks being “rewritten” to give them a certain slant; names of towns and streets being changed in the name of national “sentiment”; and Indian culture itself being redefined in such a way as to deny it its composite and pluralistic character.

The BJP's line, of course, is that it was all started by the Congress and the left who came together in a “self-serving” arrangement that saw key academic bodies being packed with left- wing academics. And the works they produced were written from their perspective, ignoring altogether the “other” (the non- Congress, non-left; in other words, right wing) viewpoint. “Whether it was the ICHR or the NCERT they were all packed with marxists,” fumed a BJP Union Minister.

In the past week, passages have been pulled out of an earlier “Freedom” volume to “show” a pro-left bias, and senior BJP leaders have made for quite an amusing sight lamenting the “downsizing” of Gandhi by left historians. “For a party which comes from a lineage that has had no love lost for Gandhi, crying foul over him is nothing but shedding crocodile tears,” says Prof. Sumit Sarkar. He also denies that there is any attempt either in the volume which he has edited or in Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume, which the ICHR has been flaunting, to denigrate Gandhi or “downsize” him.

The problem, according to him, is that the documents do not indicate that the Sangh Parivar played any role in the anti- colonial struggle. It did not participate in the 1942 Quit India movement or any other significant phase of the freedom struggle, but since this does not fit in with the “nationalistic” image which the Parivar has sought to appropriate and project, it is nervous. And hence the desperation to suppress the volumes. Meanwhile, the more the BJP and its intellectual think tanks try to put an academic veneer on the controversy, the more they end up confirming that the issue is actually about settling scores with their ideological adversaries. In a sense, it is a replay of the Ayodhya mindset which led to the demolition of a “disputed structure” to “set right” a “historical wrong.” This time around, the axe is falling on academic works to “rectify” what the Parivar sees as “distortions.” A primitive sense of vindictiveness - extracting an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth - lies at the heart of this mindset. Repeatedly over the past week, the apologists for the ICHR and the BJP have declared that with the change of Government at the Centre, the “marxists' monopoly” of academic institutions is over, and that they had better adjust themselves to the change. This is an admission that academic institutions, until now “monopolised” by “marxists,” would now be “monopolised” by the Parivar activists, and confirms that the changes in the ICHR, the Indian Council for Social Science Research, the National Council for Educational Research and Training and the Institute of Advanced Studies were indeed motivated by extra-academic considerations. At another level, this winner-takes-all approach to academic issues has dangerous implications, and raises the spectre of a never-ending cycle of ideological blood-letting. Every time there is a change of Government, it would set about pushing its own ideas about history, culture and nationalism. To some extent it has already been happening in States which the BJP has ruled (Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra), but a broad national consensus on India's basic pluralism (a recognition that non-Hindu traditions also contributed to the country's social, cultural and political life and more importantly a rejection of extreme ideological positions, particularly those rooted in denominational prejudices) ensured that there was no major disruption. The BJP is trying to break that consensus and impose, through academic research and school textbooks, an “exclusivist” agenda on the country. The portrayal of Muslims and Christians in some of the “revised” school textbooks in BJP-ruled States and the stress on aggressive Hindu nationalism militate against the liberal ideas which have informed the country's academia until now. The entire case against these volumes is built on the logic that since the two professors are “leftists” their work must necessarily be “biased”. It is of a piece with the logic that anyone who does not wear “saffron” is somehow a lesser patriot, and therefore a lesser Indian, if not a downright traitor. It is the beginning of “Talibanisation” by other means. To dismiss the goings-on at the ICHR as just another polemical row between the left and the right would be to fall into a trap.


Controversial from day one
A brief note on the ‘Towards Freedom’ project

Hasan Suroor

THE “Towards Freedom” project has been dogged by controversy since its inception in the Seventies, and just when it looked like being back on the rails the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) itself has blocked its progress by abruptly suspending publication of the volumes by Professors Sumit Sarkar and K. N. Panikkar.

The project, comprising ten volumes, was intended to document the last ten years of colonial rule to counter the British Government's ``Transfer of Power'' series. The objective was to showing that India won its independence through a struggle rather than as a result of voluntary handover of power by the British. All the ten volumes, covering the period 1937-47, were to have been completed by 1977-78 but thanks to shifting ``equations'' within the ICHR it is 20 years behind the original deadline; and is still going nowhere. The project has already cost Rs. 4 crores.

The first volume covering the year 1937 was published by Dr. P. N. Chopra in 1985 but it was found to be so “substandard'' that there were few takers for it, though the current conventional wisdom at the ICHR is that it was withdrawn by the “Marxist” establishment. Others, however, insist that its copies are still lying “unsold” in bookshops. In 1987, the manuscript of Dr. Chopra's second volume relating to 1938 was returned to him by the then ICHR chairman, Prof. Irfan Habib, who found it wanting on several counts. The charge of the present ICHR establishment is that he raised “some ideological objections...(which) suggested a subjective approach to the selection of documents”.

The project was streamlined by Prof. Habib and Prof. S. Gopal, who had left it in 1977, was brought back as general editor for the remaining nine volumes. The volumes were assigned to Prof. Basudev Chatterjee (1938), Prof. Mushirul Hasan (1939), Prof. K. N. Panikkar (1940), Prof. Bipan Chandra (1941), Prof. Gyanendra Pande (1942), Prof. Paratha Sarathi Gupta (1943-44), Prof. Bimal Prasad (1945), Prof. Sumit Sarkar (1946), and Dr. Ravinder Kumar (1947).

So far, apart from Dr. Chopra's volume, two other volumes have come out--one by the late Paratha Sarathi Gupta and the other by Prof. Basudev Chatterjee. The volumes by Professors Sarkar and Panikkar would have been out in a few months but for the spanner which the ICHR has thrown in. Manuscripts for the remaining five are still in the pipeline, and now that a committee has been set up to have another look at the whole project its future has become uncertain again. (The Hindu)


The Frontline coverage
Past and prejudice

(The cultural-political offensive launched by the Hindutva forces zeroes in on an academic project on the freedom struggle, targeting the works of two respected academics. )
Sukumar Muralidharan and S.K. Pande in New Delhi

Cultural policing has for some years manifested itself in diverse forms in the political domain of Hindutva. Only recently did Varanasi witness a particularly noisy variant when guardians of orthodoxy descended upon the sets erected for a film and destro yed them in a frenzy of moral outrage. And as the smash and burn school temporarily receded into the background, the secret cabals took over.

On February 11, K.N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar, historians of some eminence based in Delhi, received identical letters from Oxford University Press (O.U.P.). With appropriate courtesy, though without great elaboration, they were told that the two volumes they had edited for the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) as part of an ambitious documentation project on the freedom struggle, were being withdrawn from press. The ICHR's decision to stop the publication of the volumes at an advanced stage , ostensibly to subject them to fresh "perusal", was communicated to O.U.P. through a letter dated February 3. Neither Panikkar nor Sarkar, nor indeed Professor S. Gopal, the general editor of the series entitled "Towards Freedom" , was told of this deci sion.

It took a few more days for the story to work its way into the newspapers. What followed was an unsavoury story of evasion and misrepresentation. The ICHR's first recourse was to seek justification for its decision in the supposedly poor quality of prede cessor volumes in the series. A "fact sheet" put out by the Council spoke of the volumes pertaining to the years 1943-44 and 1938, edited respectively by Partha Sarathy Gupta and Basudev Chatterji, as shoddy compilations premised upon a skewed understand ing of the freedom struggle.

One of the principal objections to the Gupta and Chatterji volumes, as summarised in the ICHR's rather abusively phrased fact-sheet, is that they reduced Gandhi to a "mere footnote" and needlessly highlighted the role of the Communist party, which had pl ayed a "traitorous role" in the freedom struggle. According to the ICHR, in this effort to sanitise the role of the Left parties, the volume editors "unscrupulously" deleted vital paragraphs from documents, "in utter disregard of the well-accepted norms of editing".

Further damage had been caused by the thematic arrangement of documents, said the ICHR. This was contrary to the original directives issued under the project, which insisted on a chronological arrangement. Moreover, it enabled the intrusion of "subjectiv ity", which was used to serve the specific purpose of "fabricating the past to a purpose, for propaganda of a particular ideology".

An academic review of the Gupta volume by Savyasachi Bhattacharya was also drafted into the mission: "Another major criticism of the volume by none other than Professor S. Bhattacharya who also toe (sic) the leftist line, that historical methodology is n ot properly followed resulting in wrong and unscientific citation of documents (sic)".

The ICHR's initial response to the burgeoning controversy did not remain confined to the level of ideological critique. A fairly damning indictment on procedural grounds was also handed out against the editors of the "Towards Freedom" project. Contrary t o a decision made as early as August 1998, said the ICHR, the editors of the project had not submitted their manuscripts for the scrutiny of the Council. Rather, they had sent them directly to the publisher.

P.K.V. Kaimal, the ICHR's Deputy Director for Publications, eagerly joined in with a statement to the media. The volume edited by Gupta, he said, lacked an index, which meant that its utility as a research and reference work was close to negligible.

After some initial disquiet occasioned by the tone of the official ICHR explanation - clearly a new low in academic exchanges - it was quickly called to account for a sequence of false and tendentious assertions. Scholars familiar with Gupta's work point ed out that the "calendar of documents" he had presented was a perfectly adequate substitute for an index. Moreover, the volume provided an entire chapter on Gandhi's role. More significantly, the ICHR's criticism reflected a basic incomprehension of the purpose of the documentation project, which was to present material that was otherwise not easily accessible. Since Gandhi's role is rather well appreciated and the entire body of his writings is available in a comprehensive compilation, "Towards Freedo m" as a project could afford to direct its attention towards some of the lesser known aspects of India's struggle against colonialism.

Particularly offensive to the community of historians was the posthumous denunciation of Partha Sarathy Gupta, who taught with distinction at Delhi University and died shortly after retirement last year. Despite a debilitating stroke he suffered in 1990, he had laboured hard to complete his volume by 1993.

Savyasachi Bhatta-charya weighed in with a statement deploring the political exploitation of his academic review. "I learn with surprise and dismay," he said, "that a review article I wrote two years ago... is being misused by the authorities of the ICHR to defend a questionable administrative action detrimental to academic values." Contrary to the construction that had been placed on his remarks, he had in fact expressed some admiration for Gupta's compilation. And then, whatever criticism may have bee n entered formed "a part of an academic discourse which should not be used for purposes of hindering the publication of historical documents". This variety of "politicking," Bhattacharya concluded, endangered "the reviewers' freedom as well as the author s' freedom to express their opinions."

S. Gopal's intervention imparted further clarity to the situation. In a statement issued on February 21, he expressed "surprise" at the allegation that Panikkar and Sarkar had sent their manuscripts directly to the publisher. "These volumes were submitte d to me by the editors and after incorporating the changes suggested were forwarded to Oxford University Press by the chairman of the ICHR," he said. This made the "unilateral decision" of the ICHR to withdraw the volumes without consulting either the ge neral editor or the volume editors, "a clear violation of the terms under which the project was conceived and executed". More seriously, it involved an "infringement of the academic rights and freedom" of the historians who had taken up the responsibilit y for the project on the invitation of the ICHR.

Authoritative confirmation came from S. Settar who was the ICHR chairman when the volumes were cleared for publication. "The two volumes were sent to press with my knowledge," he said in reply to an inquiry from Frontline: "This matter was duly re ported by me to the Council."

Besieged by a tide of adverse disclosures, ICHR chairman B.R. Grover - a stalwart of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's campaign to seek historical legitimacy for its Ayodhya campaign - issued a detailed clarification on February 22, with the promise to bring o ut a "white paper" on the "Towards Freedom" project at an early date.

Grover will clearly have a great deal to account for. Prithpal Bhatia, Professor of Ancient Indian History at Delhi University and a member of the ICHR, has already raised serious questions about the propriety of some of his recent actions. In Grover's n arration, the decision to subject all volumes of the "Towards Freedom" project to a review was taken at a meeting of the Council on December 20, 1999. Curiously, the minutes of this meeting were circulated to members only on February 14, well after the I CHR administration had put into effect its rather dubious agenda.

In a letter to Grover sent on February 18, Bhatia questioned this entire procedure. The discussion on the "Towards Freedom" project, she recalls, began with a statement by the chairman that "'Towards Freedom' has been wound up", in accordance with a deci sion supposedly taken by the Council on June 30, 1999. It was then brought to his attention that no such decision had been taken, that a number of volumes had been published and that a few more were awaiting publication. "To this", Bhatia writes, "the ch airman said that he was not aware of these facts of the 'Towards Freedom' project". There followed a lengthy discussion, following which it was decided that "there would be no withdrawal of any volume (or) manuscript which has already been published or s ubmitted to OUP and accepted by it for publication."

In other words, the ICHR administration has grossly overstepped the mandate it was given by the last full meeting of the Council. All that Grover can say in self-extenuation is that the decision to review the volumes before publication dates from Septemb er 1998. Yet, to this, Settar, who was then chairman, has the appropriate response: "I read from the newspapers that the August 31 and September 1, 1998 meetings of the council are supposed to have set up a committee to evaluate all volumes under the "T owards Freedom" project. I wish to clarify that the committee that was constituted was only to review manuscripts received after that date, not retrospectively." Since the Panikkar and Sarkar volumes had been sent for publication by that date, they were clearly outside the scope of the review.

Settar is also disturbed that his correspondence with Gopal is being twisted to serve the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh clique within the ICHR. He recalls that at the first meeting of the council after its reconstitutio n in June 1998 by the BJP-led government, there was a four-hour long discussion on the "Towards Freedom" project. Although the BJP and RSS sympathisers insisted that the project be stopped, he was equally clear that it could not be: "I said that we could respond academically and if there is a feeling that there have been some omissions, then supplementary volumes could be brought out." The point was again raised at the next meeting and the compromise decision was to set up a committee to review all futu re volumes.

''Towards Freedom'' began in 1972 as a project of the ICHR. Its basic purpose was to challenge the interpretation of Indian freedom that had been presented in a British compilation entitled "The Transfer of Power". Certain historians think retrospectivel y that the Indian nationalist response was perhaps a little exaggerated. But they went along with the project in the expectation that it would deepen both the scholarly and popular understanding of the freedom struggle.

The Hindutva propagandists within the ICHR seek to hold the entire team of editors responsible for the inordinate delay in getting the project off the ground. That is an evident falsehood since "Towards Freedom" was in essence an internal project of the ICHR until 1988. For most of this time, it was under the charge of a deputationist from the Gazetteers Department named P.N. Chopra.

A volume dealing with the year 1937 was published in 1985. Although found to be wanting in academic quality, it was put into circulation and is still available in many libraries. A second volume pertaining to 1938 was ready by 1987 but was not published on account of certain evident shortcomings. Chopra was shortly afterwards relieved of responsibility for the project.

Grover today seeks to make out a case that Chopra was the victim of intellectual censorship by Professor Irfan Habib, the eminent historian of medieval India who was then chairman of the ICHR. The charge has been answered by Habib himself: "The needs of the project made it necessary for the volumes to be prepared simultaneously, and accordingly steps in this direction were taken in 1988-89. It was very gratifying that, with Professor S. Gopal as general editor, eminent historians agreed to edit individu al volumes. The entire project was entrusted to the editorial committee... (which)... proceeded to scrutinise a huge pile of documents, classifying and selecting them."

An indication of the academic value of the project in its new format is available from the fact that Oxford University Press agreed to publish all its volumes without any subsidy from the ICHR. The thematic organisation which was preferred over a strict chronological ordering also had inherent merits in that it allowed for the presentation of a vast variety of material. Whereas the "Transfer of Power" documents had dealt with largely a single source and could hence be presented chronologically, "Towards Freedom" was conceived as a project that would go beyond those self-imposed limitations. "Towards Freedom" was supposed to include in its ambit official documentation from the lower levels of the administrative hierarchy, which had been preserved in the National Archives and the various State archives. Apart from this, material drawn from newspapers, pamphlets, private papers, and the documents of various political organisations were meant to be included.

This made a thematic arrangement unavoidable, since the alternative would be an unseemly melange of unconnected documents. Grouping diverse material together in chronological terms would in this context only cause total confusion, say historians familiar with source material on the freedom struggle.

THE ICHR administration has been tied up in agonising contortions in its effort to defuse the sense of outrage in the academic community over the developments. Equally picturesque has been the response of the Union Minister for Human Resource Development , Murli Manohar Joshi. Evidently not cognisant of the methods and purposes of a documentary history, yet eager to project an aura of modernity, Joshi is on record as saying that all books need to be reviewed and revised with the passage of time.

February 16 witnessed a gathering of historians and academics in New Delhi to protest against the ICHR action. A statement signed among others by three former chairpersons of the ICHR - R.S. Sharma, Irfan Habib and Ravinder Kumar - denounced the withdraw al of the "Towards Freedom" volumes as the "grossest form of censorship" which was transparently linked up with the "plan to spread a distorted and fictitious history of the national movement".

A still larger protest action took place on February 25, when a resolution to "defeat the designs of the Bharatiya Taliban" was adopted to much acclaim. A core group plans to meet again soon to work out a strategy to confront the ongoing cultural offensive. "Towards Freedom" may have begun as an academic project and at various stages in its career seemed little more than an arena for abstruse scholarly disputation. Today, it seems more akin to the terrain where a battle to retrieve the authentic history of a nation's independence and the spirit of its democracy will be waged.


'It is a fear of history'
Interview with K.N. Panikkar.

(K.N. Panikkar, Professor of Modern Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan on his association with the ''Towards Freedom'' project and his perceptions of the current controversy over the ICHR' s decision to withdraw two volumes from publication. Excerpts from the interview:)

Could you explain the background to your personal involvement in the "Towards Freedom" project?

I became part of this project in 1989, specifically because Professor S. Gopal was its chief editor. I was invited by the ICHR to edit the volume for 1940. I completed my work in 1995 and handed over the volume to Prof. Ravinder Kumar who was then chairm an of ICHR. A copy was also given to Prof. Gopal, who looked through the volume and suggested some changes which were incorporated. Throughout the period of work there were monthly meetings of the Editors and the chief editors in which both the contents and the format of the volumes were discussed. In 1998, I received a letter from the then chairman of ICHR, Prof S. Settar, that the volume has been forwarded to Oxford University Press for publication.

This began as a centralised effort within the ICHR and then became a collegial effort. As a work of compilation, "Towards Freedom" was essentially a non-ideological effort, though there would need to be certain criteria used in sifting through documents and bringing some to light and omitting others. What exactly were these?

One must understand the immense amount of work involved in this project. The sheer bulk of the documents received by each editor was very large. I do not know the exact count, but I think each editor would have had to study more than a lakh of pages. A s election now means actually reducing that to something like 2,000 or 3,000 pages. Obviously this is a selection in which certain criteria have to be used, of which the main one was that the volume should be fully representative - it should comprehend all that happened.

If you take one particular issue, say constitutional developments or the discussion on reforms, you cannot provide all the documents. But we tried to provide those documents which are most crucial for understanding the divergent views on this issue. As a n example, in my volume dealing with 1940 I have given the response of various political parties like the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Communists and others to the offer made by the British goverment for consti tutional reforms. Any student would find in the volume the essential details of what these diverse actors thought. From there he could follow up further. The whole volume is arranged thematically and within each theme, chronologically to enable easy acce ssibility.

How are the specific emphases in your volume different from the corresponding British production?

You see, the British were mainly looking at what they themselves did. Take constitutional reforms, for instance. The British emphasis was mainly on what the thinking of the Viceroy was or of the Secretary of State for India, not so much on the Indian sid e. But an Indian researcher would like to know what was the difference in approach between different Indian actors. More importantly, our treatment is sensitive to the complex character of the freedom movement and the participation of various social grou ps in it, like the peasants, workers, women, students and so on. Such a view is absent in the British volumes.

Is the manner in which you have approached the communalism question one of the reasons why the volumes have become the target of an ideological attack?

Could be. Since they do not know what these volumes contain they are afraid these documents might not bring them out in favourable light. The documents are not presented in order to project a particular party's or group's role and to undermine any other' s. It represents in a comprehensive manner what actually happened.

But do you think there is an apprehension in some circles that the ideological fallout of publishing your volume could be adverse for the Hindu Mahasabha and its affiliates?

It is quite possible. In my view this is an attack not only on the project, but on the individuals associated with it. The current attack is not only on Marxist historians but on liberal-secular historiography. This attack is essentially rooted in a fear of history. And that fear arises from the fact that these volumes present a documentary record, which cannot be denied. K.N. Panikkar can be accused of distorting history, but it is not so easy to refute the contents of a letter written by Savarkar. For this reason, they would like a documentary history to be stopped. This is a very real factor - the fear of the real, the fear of the authentic.

Does this point towards a reinvention of the past?

Yes, indeed. As evident from the ongoing efforts of the Sangh Parivar to rewrite history. A Hinduised past is being created. This is not an attack on us alone. What they are attempting is to discredit us, by calling into question our professional integri ty. The false, malicious and slanderous attack on historians by Arun Shourie is a good example of this attempt to discredit the secular scholars of this country. In the present case, they are accusing us of acting in an unethical manner by sending our vo lumes to the publisher. As I have said earlier, this is a false charge. We have observed all procedures expected of us. Still their spokespersons like M.G.S. Narayanan continue to spread lies without any intellectual honesty or compunction. Obviously, th ey are making these charges in the belief that some of them will stick.

When did you first get an inkling that some such thing is being planned?

I had no inkling. As someone who has followed proper procedure, I could not even think of any such thing. I was planning my work for the next six months with the intention of devoting sufficient time to this work, because there is a great deal of proof-r eading and checking left. Surprisingly, we came to know of it only from the publisher. I did not expect the ICHR to conduct itself in this manner, even under this government, because after all it is a body made up of professional historians.

But the ICHR has itself been under attack for some time for this specific project, from people like Arun Shourie, who have been saying that it is an unproductive project.

This itself is very misleading, because when we started working in 1989, five years were generally accepted as a reasonable time to complete it. When we actually started working on it we found that the material already collected was thoroughly inadequate . In fact, documents had to be collected afresh in several areas. Mind you, this is not a full time job for any of us. Still I completed my manuscript in 1995, Partha Sarathy Gupta in 1993 and Sumit Sarkar in 1996. The delay and expenses on the project w ere actually before we took over. M.G.S. Narayanan says that Rs.1.2 crores had been "wasted" on this project when he took over as the Member Secretary in 1990. Obviously, it was spent before we were associated with the project, while Narayanan was a memb er of the Council. Was he remaining silent then because he was loyally discharging the orders of a supposedly "Marxist" chairman? Has he now discovered a sense of indignation since the BJP is in power? Since he had recognised the project as a "colossal w aste" of money even in 1990, he is guilty of dereliction of duty for not taking proper steps during his tenure as a member of the ICHR and later as Member-Secretary.

Charges of financial misdemeanours have also been levelled.

These are completely baseless and malicious. When Arun Shourie, who happens now to be a Minister in this government made these charges, I had said publicly that he should find out the true picture from the Ministry of Human Resource Development and after ascertaining the facts make an apology. Well, he only heaped further charges.

For Hindutva the arena of political contention is now history. Is that how you see this whole thing shaping up: that there is now a fresh offensive under way to efface the past and create a new record of nationalism as it were?

Very much so. That has always been their agenda and they have used history very effectively. I find a distinction, though. So far they have been using history in order to stigmatise Muslims. Their entire communal enterprise was based on that stigmatisati on. Now communalism has entered a new phase, in which aggressive steps are on to define India as a Hindu nation. As a part of this project, they have developed this concept of cultural nationalism, which is based on a reinterpretation of the past. Theref ore in the present circumstances, particularly in the context of the recent socio-economic developments, the reinterpretation of the past in religious terms has become more crucial. All secular voices have to be either marginalised or suppressed. So hist ory is going to be a major arena of contest. These are the forewarnings of greater attempts sponsored and supported by the state to change our notions of the past.

As a professional historian, how would you read the implications of this? We have had in the last ten years, when the contention for influence within civil society has been sharpening, several cases of archaeologists and historians trampling upon prof essional ethics. Many of them are now in the ICHR. Is the discipline strong enough to withstand this or are we going to witness a withering away of scientific history writing?

I think there are two or three levels at which we have to understand this. Historical scholarship in India is very strong and it has a very good record of adhering to the methods of the discipline. Now I feel that the discipline is in danger for two reas ons. One, though historians in this country are largely secular and have great regard for the methods of history writing, there has been a slow erosion. I was in one of the universities in Haryana the other day, which had a very good department of histor y at one time. But today an overwhelming majority of young historians who were very secular before, have gone over to a communal view. This is actually an indication of how this kind of ideology is creeping into the university departments.

More important, there is a popular history that is being created by Hindu communalists, which has nothing to do with the professional history being produced in the universities. I sometimes wonder whether this popular history will completely overwhelm th e professional strain.

Through what medium is this popular history disseminated?

There are popular books in all languages which are being circulated in a big way. And I understand there is a huge project undertaken by the RSS, through an organisation known as Itihas Sankalan Samiti, to write the history of each district of the countr y. So if these histories are published, they will become the accepted or the most easily accessible history for the mass of the people, which is going to influence the popular understanding. So this danger of popular history replacing professional histor y is really very strong. Once that happens, the historical consciousness in society might also be influenced. I have been told by some schoolteachers in Delhi that they cannot go to their classes and teach history, because the students come with certain communal notions already imbibed from their immedite surroundings. During the Ayodhya movement I have myself confronted this. Many have preferred to accept the communal construction of the history of Ayodhya over the verifiable history.

Does that mean there has to be a new idiom of popular history? When large-scale communalisation is exerting this kind of pressure on the professional discipline of history, how do you reverse that kind of process?

I think it is necessary to write local history from a perspective which conforms to professionally accepted norms of research. Professional history does not reach the people. A history of a village is very rarely written, but people are interested in wha t has happened in their locality. We always think of thematic histories or mega-histories. You may be interested in knowing that a very interesting move is on in Kerala. They have undertaken this big project of writing the history of each panchayat with the involvement of the people, with local historians, schoolteachers and college teachers trained to write local history. In fact only last month, there was a workshop for training and orientation of people who could write this kind of history. I think s omething on those lines could stop the threat that popular history of the RSS kind poses.


'Not a question of bias'
Interview with Sumit Sarkar.

(Sumit Sarkar, Professor of Modern Indian History in Delhi University, spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan about his involvement with the "Towards Freedom" project, sharing his perceptions of the issues raised by the Indian Council for Historical Research's (ICHR) decision.)

When did you personally get involved in the "Towards Freedom" project, and what can you tell us about the procedures and principles you followed as an editor of the volume for the year 1946?

Our role in this project starts operationally only from 1989. The whole procedure that was laid down for us was that we would function as a board of editors. We met collectively and kept on doing so regularly as long as these manuscripts were being colle cted. As and when we submitted particular manuscripts, the ICHR would send them to Professor Gopal who would make suggestions and then we would have discussions and we would modify whatever was needed. Finally it would be sent to the publisher. I submitt ed my manuscript in 1995. None of us was doing this on a full-time basis, apart from Dr. Basudev Chatterji. The minutes of the council in September 1998, the same council which we now hear set up some kind of review committee, states clearly that my manu script had been received and transmitted to OUP (Oxford University Press) for publication. Contrary to all the charges that we made crores of rupees - the gap here between reality and fiction is so vast that one feels almost shy of exposing it. How can such absurd things be said? Not a paisa of ICHR money has passed through my hands.

What essentially was the purpose of the project - to capture and portray the mood of the country as it was progressing towards independence?

Yes, and I think also the title chosen is rather significant. It is not a documentation of the history of the freedom struggle. It is "Towards Freedom". That is to say, to document the last ten years leading to that peculiar combination of Freedom and Pa rtition that we had.

Part of the logic of the volumes, which Prof. Gopal has expounded very well in his general introduction, is that we should bring out the diversities. And the significance of the anti-colonial movement lies not only in the struggle against the British, b ut in the progressive broadening of the movement - how, in other words, democratic, secular and some kind of federal and social justice aspirations enter the canvas - the background, in short, to the Constitution.

What was the broad thematic arrangement for your volume dealing with 1946, and is there any reason why it should prove controversial?

Well, if they want to make something controversial out of it, it is something else. But one thing we were all agreed on is that these are going to be publications of documents. So whatever our personal views, we would keep them out. We decided to keep ed itorial remarks to a minimum. There would be a general introduction by Gopal which is common to all the volumes, a special introduction again by Gopal for that particular year, and then a brief introduction by the volume editor. Naturally we cannot do an ything without some presuppositions and assumptions, with which people can disagree. But the whole point of these volumes was that since a massive amount of diverse publications was being presented and editorial comment is being kept to a minimum, people can judge for themselves.

Now I was editing the 1946 volume. Can you imagine a volume of that type without documentation of the communal riots from August 1946 onwards? The way our critics are arguing, no doubt I will hear it said that there is too much on the communal riots whic h had nothing to do with the freedom struggle. Of course, they were not part of the freedom struggle, but neither was British repression. So do we leave these out?

As for the arrangement, in my volume, it is broadly like this - it is divided into two parts, the first dealing with British India and the second with the princely states. The principle I followed to save public money in what are very massive volumes, wa s to exclude material which has already been published and is easily accessible.

In the part dealing with British India, the first chapter deals with the documentation of directly anti-British movements. The early part of 1946 is full of these, the most famous one being the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) rebellion, or mutiny as it is called . There is a great deal of documentation on that available. Our critics will not like this chapter because in these movements Communists were rather active. At least the British thought they were very dangerous. The RSS is nowhere on the scene. What can I do?

Then Chapter Two deals with political organisations, as many as we could get hold of. It suffers from some limitations, like the Muslim League documents are all in Pakistan and we have no access to them. There is quite a lot on the Congress, a bit on the Communists and the socialist groups, something on the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Hindu Mahasabha.

The third chapter I think is about labour and peasant movements. Here the year 1946, up to about August, was a period of unprecedented labour movements, which even though not a part of the freedom struggle, were deeply feared by the British and met with their repression. We see the beginning of the Telengana movement and the Tebhaga movement in Bengal. These things are also part of "Towards Freedom". What sort of freedom are we talking about - freedom can be of many sorts.

There is the ideological agenda of the RSS and like-minded political groups to try and portray the Communists as non-participants in the freedom movement, perhaps even its adversaries. Do your selections in a way challenge that conception?

To the extent that the documents are there. Now the 1942 volume is not yet ready. When that is so, then a few other things will come out about the Communist role, which some people may find dubious. But in 1946 there was just no question about collaborat ion. In fact, the British felt threatened by the Communists. There is a lot of such documentation which one has to present. What can one do? It is not a question of bias. And in these movements, Communists as well as socialists and elements of the Congre ss are very much present.

It is not my fault after all that both in the direct struggle for freedom and the other kinds of anti-British activity, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha are conspicuous by their absence. These right-wing Hindu movements share with the Muslim League a part icular honour - they were the only groups that were never repressed by the British. At some period or the other, every other movement came under some kind of repression. The Communists first became legal in 1943. Immediately after Quit India, for instanc e, they were not repressed. But that is rather exceptional.

This is one kind of absence of the Hindutva forces from the movement towards freedom. The bigger absence of course is that they have no role in the broadening of the content of the freedom struggle.

Essentially, then, your compilation was a threat to the conception of the Hindu nation that is now being constructed?

There are some fears that they would have. They might be afraid that their absence would be noticed in any kind of objective documentation of ''Towards Freedom''. But there is in a sense a deeper agenda, which threatens not only ''Towards Freedom'', but also all notions of intellectual and cultural freedom. Basically, what these people want to bring back are old-fashioned, discredited notions of what history is all about, that is, Indian history as divided neatly into Hindu and Muslim periods, defining periods by the religion of the rulers. That was the dominant way in which partly due to colonialism and partly on account of our own contributions, history was taught and studied for a long time. The national movement would then be understood like a stor y of cops and robbers, of great leaders and great villains.

Things have changed since the 1950s. And in this, the Marxists have made a signal contribution but not only Marxists... I think we need to make the point that relatively few, perhaps even a minority, of these eight volume editors would consider themselv es Marxists...

And you?

I must say that I am old fashioned enough to think it would be a badge of honour to be called a Marxist. But various scholars, all modern and liberal, have made major contributions. This is why modern Indian historiography, starting with D.D. Kosambi in the 1950s, is acknowledged the world over - wherever South Asian history is taught or studied - as quite on a par with or even superior to all that is produced abroad. And that is why Irfan Habib or Romila Thapar or R.S. Sharma are figures respected even in the most diehard anti-Communist American universities. They cannot be ignored if you are studying South Asian history.

To return to the thematic arrangement of your volume, could you tell us what are the further contents?

Yes. Chapter Four in Part One deals with communalism. It documents the communal riots from August 1946 and the anti-communal mobilisation. Gandhi figures in a major way here. One could of course write a full volume on that, but I have already referred to his role in my Modern India as his finest hour. Apart from this, there is, ample evidence, of efforts being made by other groups to stop the communal bloodshed. There is for instance an area north of Noakhali with a very powerful peasant organisation, o verwhelmingly Muslim, which stood guard and were able to block the spread of riots.

The second part of the volume in some ways would be the most original part, focussing on the princely states. We see that in British India direct political agitation died down a bit after about February-March 1946, partly because the nationalists and the British had got involved in direct negotiations and partly because of the fratricidal riots. But a lot of things are happening in the princely states, in a much more feudal atmosphere. On this I have got a lot of rich material. These rulers were in many ways the bulwarks of the British empire. And without the struggles against them, sometimes under the leadership of movements like the States Peoples Conference, Indian unity would not have been achieved. It was not achieved just by federalism, though it certainly made a contribution. There was a combination of pressures from below, which the Congress and particularly Sardar Patel were able to utilise. So these movements are important for the free India that emerges in 1947.

So this is a conception of history that goes beyond the "good king, bad king" comprehension to an understanding of the mass of the people as participants?

Yes, it is a much more total conception.

Would you say that it is an idiom of history-writing that develops with the evolution of democratic ideas in society and that the effort to extinguish it represents a threat to democracy?

Absolutely. And academically, it can mean disaster. I would say that there has been a collective failure on the part of our community of historians, in the sense that not enough of these ideas have been effectively spread at what could be called the "low er" tiers of education and culture in general. At the school level, at the popular level and in the less endowed universities outside the metropolitan centres, the old views still exist and they are being reproduced. And of course over the last ten years they are being reproduced in a much cruder and offensive form through the media and the RSS propaganda machine.

So you think there has been a disjunction between the profession of history writing and the way in which history is perceived?

I would suggest that as the Nehruvian dream began to fade, as Congress regimes moved away from the project for independent development and some kind of social justice - notably during the Emergency of course - we get the substitution of those commitments with rhetoric. More and more we are taught to look at the nation as something of a myth, as just a map, a cult or a flag. This of course the RSS takes over and develops much further. But what is the nation? Is it a map or a flag, or is it living, suffer ing, dying, struggling human beings? It is this kind of nationalism that I think is useful both for human beings and for history.

So you think your project would contribute to the broadening and revival of that view of the nation?

I would hope so. But more accurately I would put it negatively. The Sangh Parivar fears it might do so. I make no great claims for how effectively it does so.


Letter of Protest to the Indian Prime Minister by Academics outside India

The Prime Minister of India
New Delhi

Dear Mr. Vajpayee,

The latest order from the ICHR directing the Oxford University Press to stop midway the publication of two volumes on the freedom struggle by two of India's leading historians, Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Prof. K.N. Panikkar, has shocked the academic community all over the world.

Prof. Sumit Sarkar of the University of Delhi and Prof. K.N. Panikkar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University had been commissioned to write a volume each for the Indian Council of Historical Research's multi-volume series on the Freedom Movement in India under the "Towards Freedom" Project. They had completed their work and the typescripts were in press when the Oxford University Press received the letter directing it to suspend production of the two volumes and return them to the ICHR for review. This was done without informing the respective authors and without the knowledge of the General Editor of the series who alone is authorised to approve the manuscripts. The authors were informed by the Oxford University Press. Moreover, as per reports in the press, it appears that the letter was written bypassing even the ICHR and at the behest of the HRD Ministry.

We see this entire move first and foremost as a blatant attempt to stifle secular historical scholarship by imposing censorship on the work of two of India's leading social historians. We also see it in the context and logic of the increasing attacks on minorities and on artists, film-makers and intellectuals who have remained committed to the vision of a secular and democratic India, a vision that was inscribed into the Constitution and a vision without which this country could not have won freedom from colonial rule.

We strongly protest against this despicable attack on freedom of scholarship and urge you to direct the ICHR to immediately retract its order to stop publication of these two volumes.

Dr SP Udayakumar, University of Minneapolis, USA
Dr Amitava Kumar, University of Florida
Prof. Vasudha Dalmia, Dept of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Prof. IK Shukla, Writer, Coalition for an Egalitarian and Pluralistic India (CEPI), Los Angeles, USA
Dr Shankar S Narayan, CEPI
Dr Malathi Narayan, CEPI
Dr SA Samee, Cardiologist, CEPI
Sandeep K Dasverma, Mechanical Engineer, CEPI
Monideepa Sharma, Classical Singer, CEPI
Tarun Sharma, Business Consultant, CEPI
SM Shahed, Computer Engineer, CEPI
Asha Shahed, CEPI
Dr Manoj Saranathan, Rockville MD
Dr Chanda Sengoopta, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London
Ruchiragatha, USA
Ijaz Syed
Ruchira Gupta, UNICEF
Maneesha Lal, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques, Montrouge, EHESS-CNRS-MNHN, France
Prof. Hari Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University
Prof Sumit Guha, Brown University
Dr Aniruddha Das, Member of the Faculty, Rockefeller University and editor, SAMAR magazine
Michelguglielmo Torri, President of ITALINDIA, Italy
Lino Bercelli, Verona, Italy
Bruno Lo Turco, Rome, Italy
John R. Wood, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC and Past President, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute
Ania Loomba, Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Alberto Tonini, Universita' di Firenze, Italy
Irfan Mufti, Secretary/Treasurer, Pakistan NGO Forum, and SOUTH ASIA PARTNERSHIP PAKISTAN
Prof. Claudio Cecchi, University of Roma "La Sapienza", Roma (Italy)
Prof. Maarco Buttino, University of Turin, Italy
Abha Sur, USA
Sameera Iyengar, University of Chicago
Anish Goyal, MIT Lincoln Lab, Lexington
Subramanian Shankar, Dept. of English, Rutgers University, Newark, New jersey, USA
Clayton Desouza
Mahua Sarkar
Prof. Geraldine Forbes, State University of New York
Susan S. Bean, Curator, Peabody Essex Museum
Sumathi Ramaswamy, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann arbor
Mrinalini Sinha, Professor, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, USA
Swapna Banerjee, University of Florida
Tamar S Tal, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA
Shaul Bassi, Dept. of EnglishUniversity of Venice, Italy
Molly Sutphen, Dept. of the History of Health sciences, University of California, San Francisco
Devika Dibya Choudhuri, Syracuse University
Ian C. Fletcher, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
Philippa Levine, Professor, University of Southern California
Rahul S. Nair, University of Pennsylvania
Ronald J. Herring, Professor of International Relations and Director, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University
Mansour Bonakdarian, Arizona State University
John H. Groomfield, Former Professor, University of Michigan and California, Institute of Integral studies
Clinton B. Seely, Associate Professor, University of Chicago
Sonia Amin, Associate Professor, University of Dhaka, now at SOAS, University of London
Prabhjot Parmar, UK
Dr. Kokila Dang, International Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Dr. Sheldon Pollock, University of Chicago
Dr, Suvir Kaul, Associate Professor of English, University of llinois at Urbana Champaign, USA
Amit Wilson, South Asian solidarity Group
Chandrima Chakraborty, York University, Toronto
Anil Mathew Varughese, Toronto refugee Community Inc.
Elizabeta Benenati, University of Turin, Italy
Francesca Marino, Italy
Dr. Gautam Appa, London School of Economics
Sanjay Joshi, Assistant Professor, Northern Arizona University
Sanjay Ahluwalia, University of Cincinnati
Rashmi Varma, Asst. Professor, Dept. of English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Subir Sinha, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK
Dr. Michele Evo Polacco, Italy
Yasmin Saikia, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Matilde Adduci, Turin, Italy
Robert Langston, Chair, Visual arts, Morgan Park Academy, Chicago
Rushdia Mehreen, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Dorothy Stein, Institute of Historical Research, SAS
Dr. Guiseppe Flora, Queensland, Australia
Geetanjali Gangoli, London School of Economics, London
Rama Raj, CNET, Laboratoire de Bagnieux, France Telecom
Donna Wulff, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University
Chandana Mathur, New School of Social Research, New York
Badal Malick, INSAAF, New York
David Ludden, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
Sameera Iyengar, USA
Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL), USA
Gabriella Oliviero, Italy
Raka Ray, Associate Professor, Dept. of South Asian studies, University of California, Berkeley
Dolores Chew, CERAS, Montreal, Canada
William Gorley Kempt, Canada
Amy Yoxthimer, University of Rochester
Douglas E Haynes, Associate Professor, dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Richard Burian, Professor of Philosophy and Science Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University of Blacksbrg, Virginia
Dr Somnath Mukherjee, Director, HFC Engineering, C-COR.net, USA
Sandip Dasverma, Engineering Consultant, Mission Viejo, California
Dr Lilarani Dasverma, California
Haimanti Roy, University of Cincinnati
Preeti Chopra, University of California at Berkeley
Naren Kumarakulasingam, American University, Washington
GK Lieten, Professor of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
Swapna Mukhopadhyay, Seattle Community College
Brian Greer, Queens' University, Belfast
Kapil Raj, Associate Professor, Universite de Lille 3, France
Neelam Sethi, Cornell University
Sonali Kolhatkar, California Institute for Technology
Kavita Daiya, University of Chicago
Dr. Nandini Gupta, University of Windsor
Lynn Zastoupil, Associate Professor of History, Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn. USA
David Lelyveld, Cornell University (Executive Director, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies)
Adina Back, Professor, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Yaël Simpson Fletcher, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cincinnati
Shelley Feldman, Professor, Cornell University
Arjun Appadurai, Samuel N. Harper Professor, Depts. of Anthropology and South Asian
Studies, University of Chicago
Daya Varma, Professor of Pharmacology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Feroz Mehdi, South Asia Research and Study centre, Montreal
Marzia Casolari, Italy
Mary E. Curran, Teaching Assistant, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA
Dr. Sharat G. Lin, South Asians for Collective Action, California, U.S.A.
Prasenjit Duara, Professor of History, University of Chicago
Seetha Veeraghanta, University of Kentucky
Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor, Hunter College and the Graduate Centre, City University of New York
Preben Kaarsholm, Associate Professor, International Development Studies, Roskilde University, Denmark
Dr. Ratna Ghosh, William C. Macdonald Professor of Education, Dean Faculty of Education, McGill University, Montreal, Canada


Addresses of Indian PM and President

Address of the Prime Minister:

Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Prime Minister of India
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi 110 011

(Telephone: 91-11-3012312; Fax: 91-11-3019545 / 91-11-3016857). Unfortunately the PM's office does not like to advertise its e-mail address, but messages not exceeding 500 characters can be sent to it by accessing the following webpage: http://pmindia.nic.in/writetous.htm

Address of the President:

Mr. K. R. Narayanan
Presidents of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi 110 011