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

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Will History Repeat Itself at the ICHR?

The Indian Council of Historical Research has played a crucial role in the development of history over the past four decades. A member of the Council recounts the importance of the institution and takes issue with those who have criticised its "Marxist" tilt. These critics' claims even fall well short of the academic standards of ancient Indian philosophy, which were rigorous by contemporary standards.

The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) became topical with the appointment of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, President of the Andhra Pradesh chapter of the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samithi (a project of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)), as the chairman of the ICHR. He is said to be an expert on ancient Indian heritage and the Hindu religious and social history of south and south-east Asia, currently engaged in the Mahābhārata Project of Sanatana Dharma Charitable Trust for establishing the historicity and fixing the date of the Kurukshetra battle. He is involved in other projects such as the documentation of visual and literary sources on the religious and historical sites for Sivanandaguru Educational and Cultural Trust, Warangal, and the documentation of certain three tribes of Andhra for Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samithi, Hyderabad.

Since the ICHR foundational document’s stipulation is that “an eminent historian shall be nominated as the Chairman”, Romila Thapar made a professional remark against the appointment of Y S Rao, a historian lacking in visibility and academic recognition, whose work relates to historicity of the Indian epics, and pursuits show a “scant regard for the impressive scholarship that now characterises the study of Indian History” (Thapar 2014). She expressed her concern because this academic disregard may stultify future academic research. Her writing excited reactions from the hard and soft camps of the Sangh following, which came out through the press and the social media. Meanwhile, Rao, laid up unwell, addressed through Skype the members of the Council that met on 25 July 2014 for the first time since assuming duties of the Chair, in the following words of gentle and persuasive spirit, seemingly forced by Thapar’s remarks:

Let us all go hand in hand in realising the objectives of the ICHR. In its long history of four decades, the ICHR made many positive strides and maintained in (sic) encouraging historical research on scientific lines, under the headship of well-known historians. They have left behind a good tradition of secular and scientific history. With all your support, I am sure the ICHR would make further strides in the years to come.

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