ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Reign of Non-History

Do the attacks on the discipline of History presage worse days ahead?

The appointment of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao as the new chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) may have been disappointing, but surely not unexpected. It has been widely reported in the mainstream media that Y S Rao’s opinions on historical matters align very closely with the world view of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindutva ideologues. These views include a celebration of the caste system and an assertion that epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are exact expositions of events as they happened while also being compendia of “Indian” morality. His corpus of work as a historian, on the other hand, remains largely unpublished and unknown. It is evident that the new ICHR head has been appointed to push the Hindutva version of history and institutionalise it as much as possible.

The discipline of History has been the first to be attacked by religious right-wingers in India because a consciousness of history and a historical memory have been the biggest obstacles to the project of religious nationalism in our part of the world. The destruction of the discipline of History is central to the political project of religious nationalism but it is defended as an alternate, nationalist, version of history. We have seen the consequences of such attacks on History in neighbouring Pakistan where Muslim nationalists and fundamentalists have destroyed the discipline with state backing. Their Hindutva cousins in India attempted to do something similar during the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime with the support of the then Human Resource Development Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi. That attempt was only a partial success; partly because of the unexpected end to NDA rule, and also because, over the past century or so, the discipline of History in India has developed roots deep enough to weather a storm or two.

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