Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Harbans Mukia and his Critique of Indian Historiography
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books In the Hindu dated 27th October 2015, Professor Harbans Mukhia published a scathing critique of Indian historiography and with the hyperbole that comes naturally to the Left Liberals he terms the present political situation as a threat to "historiography". Is there any substance to this argument? It has become a fashion to decry the nationalists in and out of season and even if the nationalists are absolutelu quiet, it appears that the liberals would like a dog fight. For the past sixty five years, India has not seen any major shift in the paradigm within which History is debated: Communal versus Secular, Marxist versus the rest. Such contrived debates do little either to the profession of History or to the tasks that Historians have to perform in their societies. As memory keepers, Historians play a vital role in ensuring that the past does not become a victim of Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness. In India, we have seen a concerted attempt at rewriting the past keeping the objectives of the Nation State of 1947 in mind and as a consequence Indian Historiography is truncated and distorted. Can we study Kushana History without taking the larger context of Eurasia into consideration. Similarly can one study the Delkhi Sultanate without taking the Mongol context and how can one study the so called "Slave" dynasty without looking at the fact that the same Selujek Turks ruled Persia and Anatolia around the same time. My argument is simple: Indian historians rushed in to manufacture a so called National Secular Historiography and enshrimed that in the portals of the University and any attempt to question it was lampooned as "communal" and "reactionary". Can we forget the manner in which stalwarts ofIndian Historiography like Sir Jadunath Sarkar and R C Majumdhar were deliberately set aside as "Rankean" and "Reactionary". Mercifully Dipesh Chakravorthy has in his Calling of History studied the towering work of Sarkar. The need to satisfy the left of Center regime that came into power with Indiara Gabdhi in 1971 resulted in a virtual moratorium on debate in Indian History. The agenda of Historical Research was now set by the Left which was keen on looking at social and economic history to the exclusion of Political History. R S Sharma's highly original intervention in Indian Feudalism made historians discover feudalism everywhere. The appropriation of Indian Historiography entirely by the Left made meaningful debate impossible. For example, at the theoretical level, one must investigate the notion of feudalism as a metaphor for the medieval period as a whole. It has become passe to invoke James Mill and admonish anyone who seeks to ask searching questions as a blind adherent of the "colonial" school. The Left Liberals captured the UGC through Professor Satish Chnadra, the Ministry of Education through Professor Nurul Hassan and theICHR through Professor R S Sharma and his students. While the House of History has many rooms, Indian Historians stated letting out the rooms only to their shosen tenants and turned the MANSION OF HISTORY into a mere appartment block. The fall of the Congress Government has created the climate for new questions to be asked and these questions have remained ignored for the past several decades. For example is the Arayan/ Dravidian dichotomy a valid premise for early history of India. Similarly, did Sanskrit as a language serve only the instruments of religion and power or was there as Sheldom Pollock points out, there was a Sanskrit Cosmopolis. These question remain unanswered inspite of nearly seventy years of socalled research. The Left Liberals were guily of hounding the dissidents to the point of death. Harbans Mukhia himself was a victim of the intolerance of th Left and he should remember. The manner in which the Bhatariya Vidhya Bhavan series was ridiculed by these scholars goes to prove their intolerance. The Let Liberals have finally realized that sarkari historiography with a post colonial flavour will not wash.