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/ History / Action Alert /

Investigative Journalism or Slander:
Do You Have More Questions Mr. Shourie?

In 'June-July 1998', the 'progressives' alleged that the BJP government 'packed the Indian Council of Historical Research [ICHR] with pro-Ram Mandir historians', putting an end to the 'leftist control' of the institution. Arun Shourie, a Magsaysay Award winner for investigative journalism and a BJP MP, decided to investigate. It took him less than six months to unearth a series of 'scandals' and publish the findings in a book entitled Eminent Historians: Their Technology, their Line, their Fraud.[1]

There are two sets of 'scandals'. The first set relates to the functioning of the ICHR. Shourie discovered that a number of projects- some of national importance-were undertaken by these 'eminent historians', most of which remain unfinished, while costing substantial amounts of money (pp. 11-22,23-32). Further, a book was plagiarized by the very officer with whom it was entrusted (pp. 33-39). There is even an account of financial quibbling between an unnamed 'eminent' historian' and the ICHR over the utilization of a part-time travel grant of Rs. twenty thousand (pp. 45-48). Even as Shourie was investigating he had begun to publish, which brought him in conflict with two 'eminents', in print and on TV. These are also recounted with the characteristic flourish, along with reminiscences, about his earlier feats in commie-bashing (pp. 1-10,40-45,49-59).

As the plagiarization issue, one learns, is sub judice, with the accused going to court, we may not comment on it. Nor are we in a position to judge the other issues-some of which have been reported earlier in the newspapers-one way or the other. But we would definitely like to hear more of them. More precisely, we would like to hear the last thing about them, and about the other charges of corruption and malfunctioning in the ICHR, the ones which have very much been in the news in the recent past and which Shourie chose not to investigate, not even to refer to them incidentally in the present tome.

Some other points are in order. First, the data selected by Shourie himself shows that the non-completion of projects amounting to dereliction was not the BJP government's criterion for excluding certain historians from the Council membership: Dr B. B. Lal, who did not complete it (p.251), was appointed a member, while Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta, who published three monumental volumes (p. 11), was not. But then Lal is a pro-Ram Mandir historian, not Gupta. Second, the instance of Lal suggests that leftists alone have not been the exclusive 'beneficiaries' of ICHR's funding. Third, Shourie has elsewhere tried to hide the fact that frontranking, orthodox Marxists too may have been victims of the malfunctioning of ICHR (and not just others like Parmatma Saran). In an interview to India Today, he tells us about the fifteen volumes that were completed by A. R. Desai, which then disappeared and were finally got retraced by the present Chairman. For Shourie, Desai is here just a well-meaning, 'well-known sociologist',[2] not the Marxist scholar and activist that he is to all others!

Above all, Shourie has selected his instances from the thousands of decisions taken by the ICHR till date including those relating to study-cum-travel grants, publication grants to books and journals, fellowships, grants for holding seminars and workshops and so on. That is the major way the ICHR has affected the production and transmission of historical knowledge in this country. What has been the track record of the Council's members in this respect? The instances listed by Shourie are no doubt serious in themselves, but surely the judgment on the Council must rest to a far greater degree on the manner in which the Council members have decided about the research projects of others than on the way they have gone about their own research assignments. In the end, we all must demand greater transparency and accountability in all that the Council undertakes or assigns.

Shourie would have little patience with all this. In the book he is concerned only with arguing why the 'eminent historians' do not deserve a place in the Council, but in the interview he advocates the abolition of 'institutions like ICHR'. 'For it only leads to the patronage of intellectuals'.[3] That it also helps-or should help more and in better ways - historical research to survive throughout the country is of no concern or importance to him.

Not that he is interested only in historians, not history. Far from it. The ICHR scandals, those of the first set, are but 'small scandals' to him (p. ix). The 'real scandal', to which he devotes the rest of the book, is this:

In regard to matter after critical matter-the Aryan-Dravidian divide, the nature of Islamic invasions, the nature of Islamic rule, the character of Freedom Struggle-we find this trait: suppresso veri, suggesto falsi. This is the real scandal of history-writing in the last thirty years. And it has been possible for these "eminent historians" to perpetrate it because they acquired control of institutions like the ICHR. To undo the falsehood, the control has to be undone (p. 106, emphasis original).

The key institution in this case was National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The 'more eminent' members of the 'gang'[4] became the authors of NCERT textbooks on history, and have been spreading 'blatant falsehood' through them ever since. By subjecting the NCERT textbooks and a few other books to his searching analysis, Shourie seeks to show through detailed discussions of several examples how these people have been denigrating Hinduism, 'whitewashing' Islam and glorifying socialist regimes, pushing through all along the Stalinist view of history which even the Soviet historians have given up.

For ancient Indian history, Shourie has picked up R.S. Sharma's Ancient India (NCERT, Delhi, 1996), D.N. Jha's Ancient India, An Introductory Outline (Manohar, New Delhi, 1997) and D.D. Kosambi's Myth and Reality (Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1962,1983 reprint). His main accusation is that in the name of writing history, these historians make a series of 'assertions and conjectures' without any evidence (p.157); that indeed when faced with evidence that contradicts their belief, they try to get away with a fanciful interpretation. He illustrates:

It is mandatory in such books to maintain that beef was eaten in ancient India, and so we read, "It (the cow) was not yet held sacred; both oxen and cows were slaughtered for food. Beef was a delicacy offered to the guest...". "The cow is'described at one or two places in the Rig Veda as not to be killed (aghanya)". our author [D.N. Jha] allows. No matter. "But this may only imply its economic importance", he declares! (p.l59,citing D.N.Jha,op.cit.,p. 14).

Only a person who has read virtually nothing on the subject may pronounce like Shourie does here. For none of the issues involved-the historical importance of the question of beef-eating in ancient India, the evidence for this in the Vedic period, and the interpretation of the epithet aghnya (not aghanya} for the cow-owes its original research and discussion to these historians. It is enough to quote the following from the mass of detail put together by the doyen of Dharmashastra studies, bharatratna P. V. Kane, in 1941 :

In the Rig [veda] frequent reference is made to the cooking of the flesh of the ox for offering to gods (particularly Indra).... In the Rig [veda]. VIII. 43.11 Agni is styled 'one whose food is the ox and the barren cow'. In Rig.X.79.6 it is suggested that the cow was cut up with a sword or an axe. In the Rig. itself the cow is frequently called 'aghnya'.... The word ... appears to mean 'one that does nor deserve to be killed' and Nirukta (VI.43) explains it in that way. It should be noted that that word occurs sometimes in opposition to 'dhenu' (as in Rig.IV.1.6, VIII.69.2). So it may be argued that in times of the Rig. only barren cows if at all were killed for sacrifice or meat and cows yielding milk were held to be not fit for being killed.

The work of Mr L.L. Sundara Ram (Madras, 1927) on 'Cow Protection in India' contains an exhaustive treatment of the subject from Vedic times and cites the attitude of other nations and religions towards cow-killing.

...It cannot be gainsaid that the phenomenon of the voluntary giving up of meat by vast populations in the continent of India, when their ancestors had been meat-eaters for ages, is unique in the history of the whole world.[5]

Note the italicized words in the above quote, 'appears to mean', 'may be argued', 'if at all'. Such expressions, for better or worse, have been the stock-in-trade of critical reasoning in ancient Indian historical scholarship in general, as even a most cursory familiarity with the discipline will show. They often arise out of customary scholarly precaution, the uncertainties that a scholar feels about his/her own understanding of the evidence. Amidst these uncertainties, however, they have often found it possible to come out with firm conclusions. Thus D.C.Sircar (rightly called in his lifetime 'the greatest living epigraphist' by R.C. Majumdar): 'The patronage of the [Vaishnava] religion might have been the cause rather than the effect of the growing importance of the new religious creed. There is no doubt that from the end of the fourth century it gradually grew in popularity all over India...'[6]

There is no doubt' of the second sentence in the above quote does not depend on the 'might have been' of the preceding one. For Shourie, however, two such phrases, if they occur in successive sentences (or even paragraphs), must stand in direct causal relationship to each other. Innocent of these procedures, he suggests that the use of words like 'may', 'probably', 'perhaps' is typical of this group of historians alone who are whereby 'forced to acknowledge that there is next to no evidence to support what they are saying' (pp. 158-59). He does not stop here, and proceeds to offer a full-mouthed, foolproof demonstration by producing quotation after quotation and italicizing 'may', 'perhaps' and so on therein (pp. 159-67). In asserting that in using these terms the quoted statements are 'acknowledged to be without basis' (p. 159), he has demonstrated only one thing to the professional historian (in fact even a serious undergraduate student): his ignorance of the research works on which the quotations from Jha's small, introductory book are based. I shall pick out just two quotes from the Mauryan period:' "this god (Herakles, mentioned by the Greeks) may have been Krishna of later legends" ' and ' "the main inspiration of Mauryan art was perhaps derived from Persian imperial art" '(p. 162, citing D.N. Jha, op. cit., pp. 66, 70). The interested lay readers may look up the evidence for these two statements in The Age of the Nandas and Mauryas edited by K.A. Nilakanta Sastri,[7] who does not belong to Shourie's target group of historians.

But the evidence for identifying Herakles in the Greek accounts with Krishna is discussed also in Kosambi's essays on the Gita in his Myth and Reality,[8] which, as we shall see presently, Shourie has picked out for special criticism. The doubt naturally arises whether Shourie has completely read even the article he cites, leave alone the other research works. At the very first checking, I discover he has not! The opener of Shourie's diatribe in chapter 15 is the accusation that Lord Indra has been called ' "rowdy and amoral" ' without evidence (p. 156). It is worth seeing how much of the evidence Shourie has missed in Kosambi's article:

Indra took his own father by the foot and smashed him (Rigveda 4.18.12), a feat which the brahmin Vamadeva applauds....

The original god whose misdeeds are never sin is surely the upanishadic Indra who says to Pratardana Daivodasi: 'Know thou Me alone ... I slew the three-headed Tvashtra, threw the Arurmagha ascetics to the wolves, and transgressing many a treaty, I pierced through and through, the Prahladiyans in the heavens, the Paulomas in the upper air, and the Kalakanjas on this earth. Yet such was I then that I never turned a hair. So, he who understands Me, his world is not injured by any deed whatever of his : not by his killing his own mother, by killing his own father, by robbery, killing an embryo, or the commission of any sin whatever does his complexion fade."[9]

Continuing with the allegation of the 'eminent historians' denigrating ancient India, Shourie brings in the two-volume work, A History of India by the Soviet historians K. Antanova, G. Bongard-Levin and G. Kotovsky (Progress Publishers, Moscow, vols. I and II, 1973, English translation 1979). He produces several examples to show that while the Soviet Marxists appreciated the achievements of ancient Indian civilization in full measure, the Indian Marxists exerted to belittle them as much as they could. A chapter and more are devoted to this exercise by Shourie, who mockingly names the chapter after the well-known Indian proverb - gavah chust, muddayi sust.

Deceit and ignorance are all that one finds there. For example, he compares the two sets of historians on Kalidasa thus:

The work of Kalidasa is referred to [by the Soviet historians] as 'one of the pearls of ancient Indian literature', as 'an illustrious page of history's world culture'.... 'Without swerving from earlier traditions Kalidasa stood out as an innovator in many respects', the Soviet historians write in contrast to our eminences (p. 191, emphasis added).

Of these eminences, he chooses to discuss Jha alone (pp. 174-77). So we may begin by noting that the other eminence R. S. Sharma, has to say through that instrument of spreading 'blatant falsehood', the NCERT Ancient India: 'But what has made the Gupta period really famous is the work of Kalidasa. Kalidasa wrote Abhijnanashakuntalam which is considered to be one of the best hundred literary works in the world'![10] And this is the sentence from Jha's book, with which Shourie has drawn the contrast:' "But the works of Kalidasa", declares our historian, "are not indicative of an intellectual rebirth or revival of literary activity; they merely imply a further development of the literary forms and styles which were evolving in the earlier period" '(p.175 citing from D.N.Jha, op.cit.,p.114).

However, the point that Jha makes here is one against the idea of 'intellectual rebirth or revival', which is what the nationalist historians imply when speaking of the Gupta period as one of renaissance. The same point is made by the Soviet historians in the clause 'without swerving from the earlier traditions' in the quoted passage. But does the contrast lie in Jha's remaining silent on the greatness of Kalidasa? Shourie claims to have discussed pages 112 to 115 from Jha's book (p. 176,n.51),the criticised sentence being from p.114. This is what Jha states on Kalidasa on the preceding page: 'The poems of Kalidasa remain unequaled in their metrical and verbal perfection. His most famous work, the play Abhijnanashakuntalam,... remains the supreme achievement of early Indian literature and stagecraft'.[11]

Shourie's ignorance is not always irritating; it can be amusing too! He refers to 'an unavoidable fact' in early Indian history-improvement in the condition of shudra artisans and craftsmen in the early centuries of Christian era-which these 'eminents' cannot but acknowledge:

The guilds come into being, the variety of professions multiplies. To his discomfiture, our author [D.N. Jha] has to acknowledge that the condition of even the artisans improved.... "Artisans and craftsmen were largely drawn in this period from the shudras," says our author, "who gained in wealth and status on account of the progress of crafts and commerce.... The economic distinctions between the vaishyas and the shudras thus tended to be blurred...." That, unfortunately is an unavoidable fact... (p.164).

Only if Shourie knew that the 'eminent' Jha here is drawing on the researches of 'the more eminent' R.S. Sharma! It was Sharma who first pointed out at length improvements in the condition of the shudra due to economic growth during this period.[12] Our national authority on Ambedkar obviously does not know the first thing about Sudras in Ancient India.

Could Shourie be any worse? It has to be shown to be believed. For Jha, he asserts, 'Lord Shiva is just a "development of phallic cults" ' (p. 159, citing from Jha, op. cit., p. 90). Note that 'just' is Shourie's imputation, not a part of the quote. Pressing home the attack, he gushes:

'... that even a foreigner-Stella Kramrisch-should see such an effulgence in the concept of Shiva and this eminent historian just the extended phallus...!' (ibid). The quotation is not there on the cited page, nor on any of the other eight pages mentioned in the entry 'Shiva' in Jha's book! We quote below the paragraph on Shiva from the page cited by Shourie to show the magnitude of falsehood he perpetrates:

Shiva, mentioned by Megasthenes as Dionysus, evolved from the Rigvedic god Rudra and the Tamil god Murugan, though his Tamil antecedents are sometimes doubted. A number of non-Aryan fertility cults, such as those of the phallic emblem (lingam) and the bull (nandi), merged with the worship of Shiva. The earliest evidence of the phallic cult goes back to the Harappan period. It was incorporated into Brahminism around the beginning of the Christian era, and Shiva has been chiefly worshipped in the form of a linga ever since. But he was worshipped in human form as well. One of the earliest representations of Shiva in his human form comes from the village Gudimallam (near Madras)...[13]

The onus on Shourie here is twofold : he must both show where Jha has written the alleged thing and admit that he did not read or understand the above quote from Jha's book. Failing either, he stands accused of lying.

It is not historical evidence but something called 'the Theory' (by Shourie) that is alleged to dictate the writings of these historians. Shourie goes to considerable length to demonstrate-and demolish-this mockery of history with reference to the idea of bhakti and its relation to feudalism. Thus they all speak of feudalism in Indian history because 'the Theory has proclaimed that societies transit through feudalism' (p. 228). And, as it further assumes that 'everything, including scriptures setting out different paths into inner realisation, is the product of the pattern of means of production...' (p. 230, emphasis added), they proceed to show, with no evidence or at most with arbitrary selection of fragments of evidence', that bhakti was no more than a product of feudalism. Shourie discusses and criticizes the statements of Kosambi and Jha on bhakti and feudalism (pp.227-30), and traces it all to the lineal descent of 'the Theory': 'To start with there is the Theory as revealed to Marx and Engels. All that Kosambi has to do is to locate some Indian examples... and Kosambi's repute as a leading theoretician and historian is established. And all that... Jha has to do is to repeat what Kosambi said' (pp. 231-32). No wonder Shourie regularly spoke of them all as belonging to a gang ('giroha') elsewhere. Here he exposes the Theory in all its absurdity: if bhakti or personal devotion was the outcome of feudalism, then Islamic Arabia in the seventh century, Tibet with its Mahayana Buddhism till the 1950s and India of the age of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Surdas, Kabir, Nanak and Tulsidas would be feudal too, like each other and like India in the Gupta period! (pp. 230-32).

Piteous ignorance again: Shourie does not know that Karl Marx had pointedly rejected Kovalevsky's view that there was a feudal period in Indian history, that Kosambi firmly rejected Marx's views on Indian history, and that the concept of feudalism and its application have been a most complex and contentious issue among these very historians, as among others. So much for 'the Theory' being propagated by 'the gang' in one voice!

However, it is not really necessary to go into Shourie's lack of familiarity with the feudalism question (or with any of the umpteen other controversies and debates in ancient Indian history) or the merits of his historical comparisons to see the inanities of his exposition: he is theoretically naive, so that he not only misunderstands the argument being put forward but also cannot see his own point about Kosambi refuting his own allegation; and he has not read in full nor understood the article he quotes from. To see bhakti (or the Gita) as related to certain socio-economic or political structures is not to see it as their 'product' necessarily. Had Shourie been sensitive to this distinction, he would have seen that Kosambi did not see bhakti as the outcome of feudalism if for him 'the invention of bhakti precedes the development of feudalism' (p. 229). And Jha places the composition of the Gita in the second century B.C.[14] centuries before the emergence of feudalism and argues that 'the doctrine of bhakti... became socially more relevant in the Gupta.[15] Far from denying that the Gita is capable of other interpretations in other contexts than feudal, Kosambi in fact argued for it at length at the very outset in the same article:

The Gita has attracted minds of entirely different bent from each other and from that of Arjuna.... Any moral philosophy which managed to receive so many variant interpretations from minds developed in widely different types of society must be highly equivocal.[16]

The argument flows over with acute observations about the different ways in which the Gita inspired a long series of 'outstanding thinkers' in Indian history.[17] Kosambi should have known, before writing that kind of article, that Aurobindo, Tilak and Gandhi 'attached such pivotal importance to the Gita', contends Shourie, and asks rhetorically: 'Were they also buttressing feudalism?' (p. 231). Here is a sample from that very article of what Kosambi knew, and which Shourie may learn with benefit: 'Though both fought hard in the cause of India's liberation from British rule, Tilak and the Mahatma certainly did not draw concordant guidance for action from the Gita. Aurobindo Ghose renounced the struggle for India's freedom to concentrate upon the study of the Gita'.[18]

The transition from 'Hindu' to 'Muslim' India also saw the decline and disappearance of Buddhism in India [so that 'Hindu' India had also been 'Buddhist' India!]. Shourie tells us how these 'eminents'-Satish Chandra joining their ranks here with his NCERT textbook Medieval India[19]-have tried to make Hinduism the culprit for the decline of Buddhism, belittle the factor of Islamic invasions and overlook the several real causes of its decline that Doctor B.R. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo wrote at such length so long ago. Making a triumphant demonstration of his learning through lengthy citations from these luminaries (pp. 97-106), he asserts:

We find in such factors a complete explanation for the evaporation of Buddhism. But we will find few of them in the secularist discourse today. Because their purpose is served by one 'thesis' alone: Hindus crushed Buddhists, Hindus demolished their temples...(p. 106).

Further, 'Swamiji focused on another factor about which we hear little today: internal decay' (p. 103). More specifically: 'Then these monasteries became rich', he [i.e. Vivekananda] recalled, 'the real cause of the downfall is here' (p. 105).

We may begin by correcting his memory: a few pages ago he wrote a full paragraph (pp. 89-90) on R. S. Sharma' description of the internal decay: 'Now, it is not that this historian erases the internal corruption which had sapped Buddhism' (p. 89). Sharma's crime there is said to be blaming Brahmanism for the decay:

'We find that in the beginning, every religion is inspired by the spirit of reform', this historian [i.e. Sharma] tells us, 'but eventually it succumbs to rituals and ceremonies it originally denounced. Buddhism... became a victim to the evils of brahmanism against which it had fought in the beginning'. Hence: the original seed of evil is in 'brahmanism', indeed it is evil per se; and Buddhism lost out because it fell back into that cesspool (p. 90 citing Sharma, Ancient India, p. 78, emphasis Shourie's). 

But is Sharma here calling brahmanism itself evil, a cesspool? Isn't he speaking of the evils hat were present in Brahmanism? Exactly so, as I found on looking up the cited page. Sharma there describes how while Buddhism 'changed for the worse', Brahmanism was curing itself of its 'evils', was changing for the better:

It [i.e. Buddhism] became a victim to the evils of brahmanism against which it had fought in the beginning. To meet the Buddhist challenge the brahmanas reformed their religion. They stressed the need for preserving the cattle wealth and assured women and shudras of admission to heaven. Buddhism, on the other hand, changed for the worse.[20] 

This is what Shourie reads to shout that the Marxist has made brahmanism 'evil per se' a 'cesspool'! Shourie distorts, and how!! 

One major aspect, universally acknowledged of the decline of Buddhism is that it was assimilated by Puranic Hinduism; thus the Buddha became one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, Harshavardhana dedicated his Buddhist play Nagananda to the goddess Gauri, Buddhist trantrism and Hindu tantrism had many common features, and so on. The process of the assimilation-which thus also witnesses the prior separate existence-of Buddhism and Hinduism, is seen most graphically in iconography, for example in the following account by J.N. Banerjea:

Thus the [Buddhist]] gods like Saptashatika Hayagriva, Heruka, Yamari and Jambhala, the first an emanation of Amitabha and the last three of Askshobhya, have their prototypes among the various Brahmanical gods, as their names or iconographic traits show.

Hayagriva, according to the Puranic mythology, was primarily a demon to kill whom Vishnu assumed the form of a horse-headed man. The special cognizance of Saptashatika-Hayagriva is the scalp of a horse over his head; another aspect of the same god, which is associated with Akshobhya, is three-faced and eight-armed, and the number of arms as well as the emblems in the hands distinctly connect it with the Hayagriva incarnation of Vishnu.[21]

Unaware of this reason for the disappearance of Buddhism, Shourie lambasts Satish Chandra for writing that 'Buddhism did not so much decline, as it assumed forms which made it indistinguishable from Hinduism',[22] charging him with pushing the 'line' of denigrating Hinduism! It would seem that Shourie's readings on the decline of Buddhism do not go beyond what he has cited in the book, for the citations from Ambedkar and others do not refer to the assimilation process, and Shourie concludes it must be a perverse forgery of the comrades!

But does he understand what he has cited? He cites Vivekananda (p. 102) to show that the Swami too held Islamic invasions responsible for the 'destruction' of 'Buddhism or the structures associated with it' in 'Afghanistan and beyond' (pp. 101-2,262-63). Vivekananda does not speak of the 'destruction' of the structures by Islamic 'invaders' in cited passage, but instead refers to 'Turkish admixture and their conversion to Muhammadanism':

In many places of modern Afghanistan and Kandhar, etc. [Vivekananda wrote], there yet exist wonderful stupas, monasteries, temples and gigantic statues built by their Buddhist ancestors. As a result of Turkish admixture and their conversion to Muhammadanism, those temples, etc. are almost in ruins (p. 102).

Nor does Shourie understand the implications of Vivekananda's stress on internal decay as the main cause of the decline of Buddhism.

Had he done so he would have had to disagree with Ambedkar's idea of Islamic invasions as almost the complete explanation of the decline (pp. 97-99). And with Aurobindo's allusion to' "the exclusive trenchancy of its [Buddhism's] intellectual, ethical and spiritual positions" ' (p. 106) for trenchancy of positions does not go with the process of decay.

It remains to discuss Shourie's last major point about Buddhism, 'the fashion... to ascribe the extinction of Buddhism to the persecution of Buddhists by Hindus, to the destruction of their temples by the Hindus' (p.99). He asserts: '...the Marxist historians who have been perpetrating this falsehood have not been able to produce even an iota of evidence to substantiate the concoction' (ibid). Is that so? Shourie refers us to Sita Ram Goel's refutation of Romila Thapar's position on the issue (pp. 99-100). One need not, however, go to the Goel-Thapar exchange to see that Shourie here is trying to cover up his own false statement ('no iota of evidence' for 'the concoction') by distracting attention from the evidence for the persecution that Sharma has mentioned in his textbook (and to which Shourie alludes notes on page 89):

The brahmana ruler Pushyamitra Shunga is said to have persecuted the Buddhists. Several instances of persecution occur in the sixth-seventh centuries A. D. The Huna king Mihirakula, who was a worshipper of Shiva, killed hundreds of Buddhists. The Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda cut off the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Hsuan Tsang states that 1600 stupas and monasteries were destroyed, and thousands of monks and lay followers killed; this may not be without some truth. The Buddhist reaction can be seen in some pantheons in which Buddhist deities trample Hindu deities. In south India both the Shaivites and Vaishnavites bitterly opposed the Jainas and Buddhists in early medieval times. Such conflicts may have weakened Buddhism.[23] 

A refrain in Shourie's invective is that the 'eminents' speak of the exploitation and oppression of the masses only for the ancient Indian history, never for Muslim one, and that while they denigrate Hinduism they are all admiration for Islam and silent on the religious bigotry of people like Aurangzeb. The fact is, the model study of the exploitation of the masses by the state in pre-British India remains Irfan Habib's Agrarian System ofMughal India. Before he utters further nonsense, let Shourie read the book and let him reflect on Kosambi's statement about the Muslims... becoming, in their own way, as superstitious as and more bigoted than the Hindus....'[24] Meanwhile, we may see what he omitted to quote from Satish Chandra on Aurangzeb: 'We may now turn our attention to some of the other measures of Aurangzeb which may be called discriminatory and how a sense of bigotry.... Thus Aurangzeb... reasserted its [the Mughal state's] fundamentally Islamic character'.[25]

But what about the description of the religious policies of the Muslim rulers? Does not Satish Chandra try to whitewash them? Very much so, Shourie assures us with a wealth of illustrations. For example, the religious policy of the Delhi Sultans. Satish Chandra states:

Their [i.e. the Turkish rulers'] policy towards temples and places of worship of the Hindus, Jains, etc., rested on the Muslim law (sharia} which forbade new places of worship being built 'in opposition to Islam'. But it allowed the repair of old temples 'since buildings cannot last for ever'. This meant that there was no ban on erecting temples in the villages, since there were no practices of Islam there. Similarly temples could be built within the privacy of homes. But this liberal policy was not followed in times of war. Then the enemies of Islam, whether human beings or gods, were to be fought and destroyed.[26]

It is plain that Satish Chandra here is describing the policy of the Sultans in their own idiom, the policy they professed to follow in the light of their own interpretation of the sharia. But for Shourie, these are Satish Chandra's explanations for the policy of the Sultans, which lead him 'to gild the shariat itself (pp. 91-92)!

Here is Satish Chandra's own-the historian's-judgment on the way this policy worked in practice:

In times of times... the Hindus practised their religion openly and ostentatiously. According to Barani, Jalaluddin, Khaiji observed that even in the capital and provincial centres, the idols were publicly worshipped and the texts of Hinduism publicly preached. The Hindus pass beneath the wall of royal palace in processions, singing, dancing and beating drums to immerse the idols in the Yamuna, and I am helpless', he said.

Despite the pressure of a section of the orthodox theologians, this policy of broad toleration was maintained during the Sultanate, though with occasional lapses.[27]

Only the first and the last sentences of the above passage are discussed by Shourie. He omits Satish Chandra's reference to the evidence for the first statement, that is the testimony of the contemporary historian Barani. And then says that the first statement is a 'blatant falsehood' with no basis in the sources! ['But these historians, having, through their control of institutions, set the standards of intellectual correctness, the one questions the falsehoods, even though he does so by citing the writings of the best known Islamic historians of those very times, he is the one who is in the wrong' (p. 92, emphasis added)].

As for the last sentence of the quote, in using the clause 'though with occasional lapses' Satish Chandra is being succinct, and not furtive and apologetic as Shourie insinuates. For he describes at sufficient length the instances of these lapses elsewhere in the work-the doings of Firuz Shah Tughlaq and Sikandar Lodi.[28] It is important to note the references to these instances, as well as to the war-time abandoning of the policy of 'broad toleration'. For all the instances from Goel's book that Shourie musters in chapter 12 (pp. 107-116) refer to the destruction of temples and the like either by Firuz Tughlaq and Sikandar Lodi or in course of wars, when they do not relate to people (like the Bahmani ruler Ahmad Shah I) who had nothing to do with the Sultanate!

But what about conversion by force, 'the lakhs upon lakhs of Hindus whose conversion the Muslim historians of the time celebrated'? The modern historians begin by cross-checking the information from one source with that from another; they accept nothing at face value. For instance, when they find Aurangzeb ordering in 1672-73 that all madan-i maash (religious benefices) granted to Hindus be repossessed and further grants be made only to Muslims, they probe further and find that in Bengal, during the reign of Aurangzeb, 'Mughal officer in Sylhet issued more madan-i maash to Hindus after the 1672-73 order than before that date'![29] And they probe still further to show the increasing Islamization of the state despite that.[30]

And for the theory of conversion of the Hindus by force, historians do not think that it 'fits the religious geography of South Asia': 

If Islamization had ever been a function of military or political force, one would expect that those areas exposed most intensively and over the longest period to rule by Muslim dynasties-that is, those that were most fully exposed to the "sword"-would today contain the greatest number of Muslims. Yet the opposite is the case, as those regions where the most dramatic Islamization occurred, such as eastern Bengal or western Punjab, lay on the fringes of Indo-Muslim rule, where the "sword" was weakest, and where brute force could have exerted the least influence. In such regions the first accurate census reports put the Muslim population at between 70 to 90 per cent of the total, whereas in the heartland of Muslim rule in the upper Gangetic Plain - the domain of the Delhi Fort and the Taj Mahal, where Muslim regimes had ruled the most intensively and for the longest period of time - the Muslim population ranged from only 10 to 15 per cent. In other words, in the subcontinent as a whole there is an inverse relationship between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of Islamization.[31]

The last nail that Shourie drives in the coffin of 'Satish Chandra's policy' of 'broad toleration' is the following confusion that Sita Ram Goel has reached 'in his decisive work', Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, the Islamic Evidence, volume II' (p. 107):

"The destruction of temples at the hands of Islamized invaders. continued for more than eleven hundred years, from the middle of the seventh century to the end of the eighteenth. It took place all over the cradle of Hindu culture, from Sinkiang in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South, and from Seistan in the West to Assam in the East." (p. 117, citing from p. 255 of Goel's book)

Shourie holds full brief for Goel, calling his study 'meticulous and unimpeachable; (p. 107, n. 1) and his conclusions 'unassailable' (p. 117). In 1993, the same year that Goel's book came out, Richard M. Eaton published his study of Islam in Bengal, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760.

Eaton too noted the destruction of temples in Bengal, but it was highly irregular and never a systematic policy pursued by the state. On the contrary, temple building continued in full strength through Muslim  rule. The table (reproduced below) in the book[32] constitutes a resounding rebuttal of Shourie's and Goel's claims.

Construction of Dated Brick Temples, by Sect, 1570-1760

                    Vaishnava   Shaiva         Goddess          Total                   

1570-1580   1                  -                   -                       1                         

1580-1600   3                  3                  -                       6                         

1600-1620   3                  -                   2                      5                         

1620-1640   5                  1                  -                       6                         

1640-1660   15                3                  2                      20                       

1660-1680   16                2                  2                      20                       

1680-1700   17                2                  4                      23                       

1700-1720   12                4                  2                      18                       

1720-1740   24                22                6                      52                       

1740-1760   18                40                10                    68

---------------------------------------------------------------------------    

Source: Brick Temples of Bengal: From the Archives of David McCutchion, ed. George Michell (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 195-254. Note: The temples listed by Michell are limited to monuments "in reasonable state of preservation".


Now for a brief account of Shourie's expert knowledge of Aurangzeb. When I.H. Qureshi and Satish Chandra explain in detail that the imposition of jizya by Aurangzeb did not lead to the conversion of the Hindus on any recognizable scale they are not 'whitewashing' jizya, but are writing against a widely heald view that jizya's imposition was intended for large-scale conversion of people to Islam. The view in fact dates back to the report of Manucci, according to whom, 'the personal tax paid by the Hindu traders every year in advance nearly ruined them, to the great delight of Aurangzeb who expected their imminent conversion to Islam'.[33] So it becomes necessary to state, as Satish Chandra does: 'It was not meant to be an economic pressure for forcing the Hindus to convert to Islam for its incidence was too light-women, children, the disabled, and indigent, that is those whose income was less than the means of subsistence were exempted, as were those in government service. Nor, in fact, did any significant section of Hindus change their religion due to this tax.'[34] 

Ignorant of the issue, Shourie produces bulky quotations from Qureshi's The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (with a proper aside on Qureshi's migration to Pakistan and his political importance there) and Satish Chandra's textbook (pp. 128-30), and babbles away:

Yes, Aurangzeb introduced the jaziya, but cautions Satish Chandra, "it was not meant to be an economic pressure for forcing Hindus to convert to Islam, for its incidence was to be [sic] light." For this assertion Satish Chandra gives two bits of proof, so to say. First, "women, children, the disabled, the indigent, that is those whose income was less than the means of subsistence, were exempted as were those in government service." How could Aurangzeb have exacted attacks from those "whose income was less than the means of subsistence?" And why would he exact a discriminatory and humiliating tax from those who were already serving his interests and those of the Islam state?! The second proof that Satish Chandra gives is that "in fact, only an insignificant section of Hindus changed their religion due to this tax"-but could that not have been because of the firm attachment of Hindus to their faith, because of their tenacity rather than because of the liberality of Aurangzeb') (pp. 123-4)

The last bit, the italicized one-Shourie preaching Chandra about the strength of Hinduism-when read with the following quote from Chandra's book in our learned treatise, has a truly comic flavour:

'On the whole', says Satish Chandra, 'conversion to Islam where not affected with the strength of the sword. If that was so, the Hindu population of the Delhi region would have been the first to be converted. The Muslim rulers have realized that the Hindu faith was too strong to be destroyed by force.... Barani also says that attempts to use force had no effect on the Hindus'. (Shourie, p. 95 citing Satish Chandra, p. 86)

Turning to Bipan Chandra's Modem India, Shourie finds there the same whitewashing of the Muslims (ch. 14). Here his disagreement with Bipan Chandra's account is fundamental, on what a Muslim really is. Quoting profusely from the Quran Shourie argues that it is futile to seek any other explanation for anti-nationalism and communalism among the Muslims than in their religion itself! It was their religion that required the Muslims to stay away from the national movement, not to love their country as it 'requires believers to turn to Arabs, Arabic, Arabia' (p. 266). It was Islam that made them inherently communalist as it 'requires believers to shun non-believers and do opposite of what they do' (ibid.). And it is not in certain contexts, in certain specific periods and places, that this would be seen. For 'these are motions that are fed to the believer with, so to speak, his mother's milk from the moment of his conversion' (p. 149).

So Shourie has turned a real Muslim theologian himself. After setting out a code of conduct for true Muslims, he must go ahead and pronounce that all the Muslim rulers in Bengal were not Muslims from 1204 when they conquered a part of Bengal to 1679, for more than 470 years, when 'the jizya had never...been imposed or collected in Bengal'[35] For didn't they ignore 'the ayats from Quran. Jhadis and fatwas which direct the believers to shun, ostracize, subjugate, and suppress non-believers till they give up and embrace Islam' (p. 145)? Nor were all those Muslims true believers who took part in the national movement and practised Hindu-Muslim unity! Nor was Iqbal when he wrote "sare jahan se achchhaa" and did not except Arabia!!

Finally, Shourie charges these 'eminent' historians with making the textbooks the instruments of socialist propaganda. In support he uses parts of a nine page chapter in the NCERT textbook Society, State, and Government (1996) by S. N. Jha to prepare an eight-page chargesheet (ch. 9) that the book, which has 16 chapters and 142 pages, is a device for injecting the Marxist venom in the students!

But Shourie has been talking about 'eminent historians', what is he doing with an 'eminent' political scientist here? More specifically, he has been taking apart NCERT Class XI-XII books on history, and is finished with Ancient India, Medieval India, and Modern India. Why doesn't he take on Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev's Contemporary World History, the history textbook for Class XII by NCERT? After all, Arjun Dev is no less 'eminent' than these people. Is it because he read in the book the following and other things that give lie to his own 'line', 'the Theory' of Arun Shourie:

The political development of the Soviet Union was accompanied by gross violation of liberties of the people and the principles of democracy.... A number of political parties and groups... had their members in the Soviets. During the Civil War and later, when there were attempts to organize uprising, they were eliminated from the political life of the country. Most of the leaders of these parties either left the country or were exciled to Siberia.

The Bolshevik Party..., became the sole political party in the country. This party established its exclusive control over the country. Even within this party, gradually all democracy was extinguished.

Gradually, in the 1930s, in a country which professed building a new type of society and a higher type of civilization, dictatorship of one man took shape.

The number of people who perished in the Great Purge is only beginning to be fully estimated. Their number was enormous. They included some of the most prominent communist leaders, veterans of the revolution, writers, artists, scientists, military and civilian officers as well as some leaders of the communist parties of other countries.[36]

The foregoing by no means implies the absence of gaps, errors, obscurities, contradictions and stylistic lapses in the writings of the above scholars, as indeed in those of ;others and in other disciplines. It is their presence that, among other things, makes possible research through critique. For instance, the use of if at all in the quote from Kane seems misplaced to me, as the uncertainty of interpretation relates not to the evidence for cow slaughter but to the significance of aghnya. And I don't think that the term 'reflection' correctly represents the relation between bhakti and ancient Indian society as described by the above scholars. Critique has been-and must remain-the essential prerequisite of knowledge production. In my own limited research, I have not been able to draw on the researches of others without criticism, including of the group of historians I defend in public here.

For critique is a measure of recognition as well, and is to be distinguished from ignorant slander, from lampooning a work as mischievous, insidious nonsense. Thus Karl Marx, himself a foremost critic of Hegel, was irritated by 'the tiresome, conceited and mediocre epigones who set the tone among the educated German public'-the likes of whom went about calling Spinoza a 'dead dog' and Hegel a 'deflated balloon'-to 'openly' declare himself 'the pupil of that mighty thinker [i.e. Hegel]'.[37] The formation of Max Weber's ideas in turn rested on a critique of Marx to the extent that 'the bulk of Weber's intellectual output' has often been said to represent a long-drawn-out 'dialogue with the ghost of Marx'.[38] Nearer home, the Marxist Kosambi severely criticized S. A. Dange, the leader of Communist Party of India, for not qualifying his [i.e. Dange's] critique of European scholars with a recognition of their contribution:

'In noting, quite correctly, that British histories of India are coloured by the national, and class prejudices of their writers, Dange forgets that most of our source material was first collected, analyzed, arranged by foreign scholars. To them we owe the critical method, the first publica-tion of authoritative texts, and archaeological exploration... could he not have spared a few sentences for European and American orientalists, particularly for the great line of German Indologists from Grassman to Luders? They were thinkers who approached Indie studies with insight, understanding, sympathy, critical systematiza-tion'.[39]

In the end, it is hardly comprehensible that a winner of Magsaysay Award for investigative journalism should write as such a reckless ignoramus. But one easily understands that an upwardly mobile political ideologue in a hurry should do so.


[1] ASA Publications, New Delhi, 1998. The quotations are from p. ix of the book.

[2] India Today, November 23, 1998, pp. 37-38

[3] Ibid.

[4] Giroh was the Hindi word that Shourie used for them in the TV encounter

[5] P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, vol. II, pt. II, Poona, 1941, pp. 772, 773, 776. Emphases added.

[6] D.C. Sircar, "Vaishnavism," in R.C. Majumdar and A.D. Pusalker, eds.. The Classical Age, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1954, p. 414 (emphases added).

[7] Delhi, 1967, pp. 305, 351-60.

[8] D.D. Kosambi, Myth and Reality, pp. 24-26.

[9] Ibid., pp. 19,24.

[10] Ancient India, pp. 163-64.

[11] Jha, op. cit.,p. 113.

[12] R. S. Sharma, Sudras in Ancient India, second edition, Morilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1980, pp. 192-201, 204-7, 240-44, 318.

[13] Jha, op. cit., pp. 89-90.

[14] Ibid, p. 91.

[15] Ibid, p. 106, emphasis added.

[16] Kosambi, op. cit., p. 12.

[17] Ibid, pp. 13-15.

[18] Ibid

[19] NCERT, New Delhi, 1996.20 Sharma, Ancient India, p. 78.

[20] Sharma, Ancient India, p.78.

[21] J.N. Banerjea, in R.C. Majumdac, A.D. Pusatker, A.K. Majurndar, eds.. The Age of Imperial Kanauj, Bharatiya 'Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1964, pp. 282-83.

[22] Satish Chandra, op. cit., p. 32.

[23] Sharma, Ancient India, p. 78.

[24] D.D. Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, second edition, Bombay, 1975, p. 378.

[25] Satish Chandra, Medieval India, pp. 230, 233.

[26] Ibid., p.85, emphasis added.

[27] Ibid., pp. 85-86.

[28] Ibid., pp. 71, 113.

[29] Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, Delhi,  1997,p.263.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., p. 115, emphasis added.

[32] Ibid., p. 185.

[33] Tapan Raychaudhuri, 'The Mugal Empire', Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. 1, p. 188.

[34] Satish Chandra, op. cit., p. 232.

[35] Eaton op cit, p. 178 n. 58.

[36] Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev, Contemporary World History, vol. I, NCERT, 1995, pp. 71, 73,74.

[37] Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, Moscow, 1986, p. 29; E. J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, Fontana, Calcutta, 1992, pp. 294-95.

[38] Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory, Cambridge, 1996, p.185.

[39] A.J. Syed, ed., D.D. Kosambi on History and Society, Bombay, 1985, p. 74.