Defacing the national psyche: A brief history

Sandeep Balakrishna
Sandeep BalakrishnaNov 06, 2015 | 13:20

Defacing the national psyche: A brief history

"… It is an ominous sign of the time that Indian history is being viewed in official circles in the perspective of recent politics. The official history of the freedom movement starts with the premise that India lost independence only in the 18th century and had thus an experience of subjection to a foreign power for only two centuries. Real history, on the other hand, teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century." 


Wrote one of the greatest and encyclopaedic historians of the world, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar in the preface to the first volume of the three-volume, definitive History of the Freedom movement in India published in 19621. Whereas his general editorship chronicled India's freedom struggle in the last volume of the 11-volume magnum opus The History and Culture of the Indian People, his History of the Freedom movement in India (HFMI) treated the episodic topic independently and gave us a work of history that remains unsurpassed even today. A natural classic. That it is the work of just one man is a lesson of life in its own right.

The story of how it came to be written deserves multiple retellings not in the least because it was deliberately, disgracefully suppressed and buried till the waning of the socialist decades. Most importantly, the story needs to be told for the sake of our children of today, and their children of tomorrow.

Two tales of the same project:

That our Marxists - of the JNU and the badge-wearing variety - have subverted our history among other things is largely well-known. However, if you thought that they were the pioneers of this ignoble project, think again.


The roots of the rot had begun to sink in deep and take shape elsewhere.

In 1948, RC Majumdar submitted a proposal to the government to write an official history of the freedom struggle, a fact that he records in some detail in the appendix of volume 1 of HFMI.2 This first-ever proposal on this much-needed endeavour was accepted.

What happened next is best narrated by Dr BN Pandey in his review of volume 1 of Majumdar's HFMI.3

In 1952 the ministry of education appointed a board of editors for the compilation of the history. Professor Majumdar was appointed by the board as the director and entrusted with the work of sifting and collecting materials and preparing the draft of the history.

However, the board as consisting of politicians and scholars, was least likely to function harmoniously. Perhaps this was the reason why it was dissolved at the end of 1955. 

If anything, this gives away the fact that political interference began on day one to the obvious detriment of scholarship, which must essentially rest on truth. And Dr Pandey's moderate language merely throws a hint of what exactly had happened. His language is also a reflection of an era where restraint in public life and in utterances was highly valued.


Yet this is not the full story. The reason the board was dissolved lies elsewhere. Dr Pandey continues,

In [the first] volume the distinguished author has shown ample courage and sound scholarship in approaching some very controversial and delicate questions. On the question of Hindu-Muslim relationship in pre-British India he refutes the commonly-held view that the Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony before the advent of the British and that the Hindu-Muslim tension was the outcome of the British policy to divide and rule. These two communities, the author holds, lived as "two separate communities with distinct cultures and different mental, and moral characteristics" (p 33). He argues that the Hindu leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru, deliberately ignored the fundamental differences between the Hindus and Muslims and made no serious efforts "to tackle the real problem that faced India, namely how to make it possible for two such distinct units to live together as members of one State (p xix).4 

However, it was merely the board that was dissolved. The project was very much alive. As Dr Pandey notes, it remained "in balance for a year" after which the government entrusted it to a single scholar named Tara Chand, a Congress-friendly ex-bureaucrat in the education ministry who was India's ambassador to Tehran from 1951-56. Published in 1967 by the publications division, ministry of information and broadcasting, this, tragically, remains the official history of the freedom struggle (the title is the same as that of RC Majumdar's) till date.

But then, RC Majumdar was undeterred in his quest to author the most authentic history of the freedom struggle of his own countrymen: to keep their hopes and pains and sacrifices and spirit and struggles and tears ever-fresh and to preserve the vast forest of their heroic memories watered and evergreen. For yet another of Bengal's proud sons, this was not merely a project: it was in many ways akin to working towards the same goal with the same spirit that animated our freedom struggle for Majumdar had lived it. It was national service in the truest sense of the word.

And so, with meagre resources, he worked alone and completed the majestic three-volume work in just seven years. It is still the most comprehensive, authoritative and unchallenged work on India's freedom struggle. This point has a huge bearing on what will follow.

Three crucial observations emerge from this saga.

First, the seeds for the politicisation of the history establishment were sown when politicians were appointed to a scholarly/academic board, a place they had no business to be.

Second, the precedent for slaughtering historical truths was set because Majumdar would critically examine the roles played by Gandhi and Nehru in the Independence struggle, a taboo that would certainly infuriate the first and currently-serving, socialist prime minister. In the words of Dr NS Rajaram, "What was Majumdar's crime? He refused to bend history to suit the interest of the Congress."5 And so, the stage was set for rampant historical distortions at the hands of Marxist pamphleteers for the next 50-odd years at all levels: from the school to the university. The distortions remain even as we speak.

Third concerns the timeline. On the one hand, we have a project that begins at the dissolution of the board in 1955 to restarting the project in 1956-57 to its eventual publication by the government in 1967: a project that had the complete backing of the government and resources on demand. On the other, we have the illustrious example of a committed scholar working alone, who published the monumental three-volume HFMI five years before the "official" version of the same epoch. This point too, has an important bearing on what will follow.

The education minister back when the project's proposal was conceived and submitted by RC Majumdar: Jawaharlal Nehru's Man Friday, Maulana Azad, India's first education Minister. He was succeeded by three equally, dynasty-friendly education ministers. It was during the tenure of the ultra-loyal dynasty lackey, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed that Tara Chand's sanitised bundle was finally published. The same Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who signed the Emergency proclamation.

Thus came about the systematic marginalisation and banishment of a behemoth historian, scholar and true patriot which went hand in hand with the construction of a Marxist grand narrative of Indian history that was elevated to vile levels and has come to be the mainstay of not just our history but our public discourse.

And the reason for Dr RC Majumdar's anguished lament recounted at the beginning of this essay.

ICHR as the foundation

But Majumdar's banishment was only the foundation but an incredibly firm foundation. One of the first structures to be built on top was the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR).

The distinguished archaeologist, Dr DK Chakrabarti provides an explanation6 of how it went from thereon:

I find [Romila] Thapar's emphasis on "Freedom of Expression" very intriguing. The historical group of which Thapar is an eminent member came into being in the early 1970s "to give a national direction to an objective and scientific writing of history and to have rational presentation and interpretation of history", as the [then] website of the Indian Council of Historical Research declared. To argue that there was no "objective and scientific writing of history" till this group moved into government-sponsored power to control the funding and job-opportunities of historical research in India was distinctly reminiscent of a dictatorial streak in itself.

By then historical research in the country had flourished for about a century and to argue that the previous historians were unaware of "objective and scientific writing of history" was a vicious piece of self-aggrandisement on the part of this group. In fact, since the coming of this group to power, the world of Indian historical studies has been largely criminalised. When Thapar preaches in favour of historical tolerance, one does feel amused. 

1972 to be precise. The year the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) was formed under the encouraging patronage of then education minister Nurul Hasan. For most of its existence ever since, it has become a sprawling den of all manner of Communists actively engaged in the subversion of India's history, plagiarism, and embezzlement of taxpayer money, among other crimes. The perpetrators have gotten away with it thanks to the protection afforded by their political masters.

In fact, the crimes began barely five years after it was born.

In 1976-77, (late) Dr Paramatma Saran, a specialist and expert in Indian medieval history and a scholar of the Persian language submitted the manuscript of his English translation of Tarikh-i-Akbari by Muhammad Arif Qandhari to the ICHR.

The manuscript simply vanished.

Sometime later, as a result of Dr Saran's son-in-law's dogged inquiries, an official probe was ordered. The result of the probe was declared by the then deputy director of the Medieval Unit of the ICHR Tasneem Ahmad: the manuscript was "submitted but not traceable."

About 25 years later, the same manuscript - word to word - resurfaced in the form of a PhD thesis submitted by the selfsame Tasneem Ahmad. The foreword showered praises on the thesis thus:

"What it [Tarikh-i-Akbari] needed was a full-scale English translation. This has been provided by Dr Tasneem Ahmad in a very competent manner, aiming at faithful accuracy and at a critical assessment of the information here received by comparing it with that offered by other sources…[it is a] notable contribution to the national celebration of the 450th anniversary of Akbar's birth. I feel confident that it would reinforce the interest in Akbar's age widespread among those who have a care for the long process of the creation of a composite culture and a unity that together constitute what is India."

The author of the foreword: Prof Irfan Habib. The same Irfan Habib who, last week, equated the RSS with the ISIS. What also needs to be told is the fact that Prof Habib was twice chairman of the ICHR and five times its member as also the fact that Tasneem Ahmad, the deputy director of the Medieval Unit of ICHR in which capacity he declared the manuscript untraceable.

However, the ugly truth remains: Dr Tasneem Ahmad was awarded a PhD for a work he had stolen - there's no polite way of putting it. To my knowledge, it doesn't appear that he has been punished for it by the law. And Dr Paramatma Saran is dead.

A black hole of national waste

It's now time to recall that I had mentioned two important points "that have a huge bearing" in my recounting of the RC Majumdar saga.

First, his record-time publication of the definitive volumes on the history of Indian freedom struggle and second, the timeline of the publication of the same project entrusted by the government to Tara Chand.

In 1972, the year ICHR was established, the government funded Towards Freedom, an ambitious project to (sic) document - yet again - the Indian freedom struggle in nine volumes. This project is as old as the ICHR itself and remains unfinished after 43 years. Perhaps an unfinished golden jubilee is in order to honour this vicious non-achievement.

Some excerpts from the excellent and detailed July 17, 2015 Mail Today report7 will suffice to convey the extent of venality and loot of public money:

Have you ever heard of any government spending almost 40 lakh on a book? Or a book project going on for 43 years, and counting, with crores of rupees spent on it?

All this and more has been happening at the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), an autonomous academic body funded by the government of India. It spends liberally to produce books in the name of 'Special Research Projects'.

And these special research projects, which should be wrapped up within a few years for only a few lakhs of rupees, drag on for decades and bleed taxpayers of crores. Among the defaulting historians are the late Bipan Chandra, Irfan Habib and KM Shrimali. Prof Chandra, a formidable scholar of modern Indian history, is the sole reason why the 'Towards Freedom' project, which started in 1972, is still continuing.

The ICHR's oldest, costliest and the most controversial project continues to bleed the public exchequer. It provoked Arun Shourie to write Eminent Historians in 1998, and he accused ICHR of spending 1.70 crore on the project.


As for [Irfan] Habib and Shrimali, they have not submitted a single manuscript for the 'Dictionary of Social, Economic and Administrative Terms in Indian/South Asian Inscriptions' project, which was started in 1989... This project has so far soaked up more than 42 lakh.


Shrimali has not produced a single volume to date. All he has to show for all these years is a few thousand computerised cards compiled by hired assistants who get paid by ICHR… Habib's record is worse. If the annual reports are to be believed, he has been promising to submit his manuscript since 2006-07… When Mail Today enquired about the stage of Prof Habib's work, the ICHR informed that "Habib saab has excused himself from this project"

The sheer magnitude of self-righteousness of Irfan Habib is paroxysmal: instead of being accountable, the lofty professor has chosen to "excuse himself," a la Tarun Tejpal "recusing" himself.

Towards Freedom appears to be that mammoth ICHR udder that has provided a seemingly unending supply of the milk of political patronage, pelf, and wealth to the Communist ICHR worthies. As the Mail Today report indicates, no one in the ICHR seems to have the remotest idea of exactly how much this project has sucked: a black hole of national waste.

It needs to be disbanded immediately.

Swindling taxpayer money

Indeed, whatever I've mentioned about the ICHR's sordid record owes entirely to exactly one expose by Arun Shourie, the classic Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud published in 1998. To quote from NS Rajaram's review,8

Eminent Historians makes for depressing reading. It leaves one wondering as to what must be stirring in the minds and souls of these "eminent historians", to make them sink to such depths of intellectual and moral degradation as would place them in the company of Lysenko and Goebbels… their disloyalty to the nation and the culture that has sustained and nourished them, and without which they would be nothing. Unlike Indian scientists and technologists who are recognised everywhere, in the world of humanities, these "eminent historians" are utter nonentities, little more than crooked reflections of colonial stereotypes.

When Shourie exposed all sorts of skulduggery in the Towards Freedom project in comprehensive detail, here was his estimate of the wastage of money.9

… a project which was to have been completed in five years and a few lakhs has been dragged for twenty-seven years, a crore and seventy-odd lakhs have been gobbled up in its name - and the volumes are still said to be on their way. This is gross dereliction - independent of what the volumes will contain, and what they would have left out.

One can only calculate the further wastage for the balance period from 1998 to now, given that it has still remained incomplete. And then there's the minor matter of pilferage of taxpayer money. Again, we can turn to Shourie for just one representative sample in the person of Bipan Chandra.10

Here's how it panned out:

This eminent historian was sanctioned Rs 75,000 for the year 1987-88 for the assignment entitled "A History of the Indian National Congress". By 1989, he had been given Rs 57,500 with the balance (Rs 17,500) to be paid after the completed manuscript was submitted. He did not receive the balance due because he never cared to submit any manuscript. Upon inquiry, Shourie was told by the ICHR that the remaining balance is yet to be received because a "formal manuscript in this regard is yet to be received".

However, the story doesn't end here. 11Writes Shourie,

Later I learnt that the Rs 75,000 which had been allotted to this "eminent historian" for this project - "the Oral History Project" - had been but a part, a small part of the total take. Bipan Chandra was given in addition Rs two lakhs by the ICSSR and Rs four lakhs through the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Neither institution received any manuscript from him.

This is a small part of the taxpayer money guzzled by just one historian on a project separate from Towards Freedom, of which Bipan Chandra too, was part.

Closing notes

By today's fallen standards, if one were to perchance overlook these financial crimes going by the "small" sums they swindled, the all-round damage these eminent historians have inflicted on the country is unforgivable.

In several ways, they have been responsible for heightening communal tensions most notably during the Ayodhya period, a turning point in India's history. To get a whiff of the nature of said damage, we will allow Dr Koenraad Elst12 to speak:

In my study of the Ayodhya controversy, I noticed that the frequent attempts to conceal or deny inconvenient evidence were an integral part of a larger effort to rewrite India's history and to whitewash Islam. It struck me that this effort to deny the unpleasant facts of Islam's destructive role in Indian history is similar to the attempts by some European writers to deny the Nazi Holocaust. Its goal and methods are similar, even though its social position is very different: in Europe, Holocaust negationists are a fringe group shunned by respectable people, but in India the jihad negationists are in control of the academic establishment and of the press.

Dr Elst's note on jihad negationism has a perfect echo in Dr Pandey's note about Majumdar's accurate observation about how "the Hindu leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru, deliberately ignored the fundamental differences between the Hindus and Muslims..." in their quest to attain an artificial harmony between the two based not on lived, historical realities but wishful thinking. It is this lazy or timid or short-sighted ignoring that eventually led to wholesale distortion, suppression, and even inventing historical "facts" by Communists.

The story of these realities must be told, at least now, to build a nation based on accepting and digesting even the harshest of historical truths. That definitely takes courage and toughness but is preferable in the long term than pretending that these truths don't exist. As with people so with problems: at some point, the makeup will peel away.

As a recent example, had our history been told honestly right from childhood, nobody would've even conceived naming a road in the honour of Aurangzeb. That we had to face outrage from these same jihad-deniers and thousands of urban Indians misled by reading such "history" shows what happens when denial and pretence are preferred to avoid facing harsh truths - or to push deadly, imperialist ideologies.

The same - if not greater - damage that Nehruvian Statism inflicted in the economic space has been inflicted by more than six decades of writing, teaching and propagating Nehruvian history. Only, its toll has been incalculable: with each passing decade, India's accommodative diversity rooted in Dharma has steadily morphed into irreconcilable difference to the extent that significant and influential sections of Indians now see nothing wrong in inviting foreign powers to intervene13 in India's sovereign affairs.14

Indeed, it's best if we learn it directly from the eminent historians. Here's Dr Dilip K Chakrabarti recounting Romila Thapar's "vision" of India15 at the end of the 21st Century:

In the case of India Thapar, in an interview to the French paper Le Monde, foresaw (cf M Danino in Dialogue, April-June 2006/vol 7, no 4) that by the end of the 21st century India would break down into a series of small states federated within a more viable single economic space on the scale of the subcontinent.

And these eminences have taught history to and written history textbooks prescribed for our school and college children.

Our eminent historians would have correctly remained in the fringes - like the Holocaust deniers in Europe - had honest scholars like RC Majumdar not been shunned and hounded out solely because they didn't dance to a specific political - or person's - tune. It says a lot about the person of Jawaharlal Nehru and/or Maulana Azad if they felt threatened by a dispassionate assessment of one of the most important episodes of India's long history. And Majumdar was just one of the hundreds of such Himalayan scholars of the period, who were victimised by an insecure autocrat.

It is also true that powerful counters were offered against this all-round assault against Indian history by pioneers like Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup but when oppressive regimes tire out of continual hounding, and become helpless in the face of irrefutable facts, they resort to strangling by silence. Thus, our eminent historians silenced the voices of Sita Ram Goel et al with a very simple device: they completely ignored them. They refused to acknowledge that such people even existed much less mentioned their work.

In the end, India had to wait till 1998 for Eminent Historians to be published - a book that uncovered in detail after ghastly detail of this multi-layered deception on the national psyche that has disfigured the minds of at least three generations regarding the vital truths of their own nation.

And thanks to Arun Shourie's seminal contribution, Eminent Historian justly become a swearword in public discourse today.


1. RC Majumdar: History of the Freedom movement in India, Vol I: pp xii-xiii

2. Ibid: Appendix

3. BN Pandey: The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No 1/2 [Apr 1966, pp 86-87]

4. Same as iii

5. Dr NS Rajaram: ICHR: Are they 'eminent historians' or ordinary criminals in scholars' robes? FOLKS Mag, June 2012

6. Dr DK Chakrabarti: Romila Thapar and the Study of Ancient India: History as propaganda - FOLKS Mag, June 2012. Ed by Dr NS Rajaram

7. Utpal Kumar: ICHR turns white elephant with its projects guzzling up crores-Mail Today, 17 July 2015

8. Same as v

9. Arun Shourie: Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud, 1998

10. Same as v

11. Same as ix

12. Dr Koenraad Elst: Negationism in India, Concealing the Record of Islam, 1993,Voice of India, pp 1-2

13. The Five Testifiers: IndiaFacts, 22 September 2015

14. The USCIRF testimony of Kamal Mitra Chenoy: IndiaFacts, 22 May 2014

15. Same as vi

Last updated: November 06, 2015 | 13:20
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