By Saparya Sood:
The recent appointment of Prof Y Sudershan Rao as the chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research by the HRD ministry has been the Centre of a lot of controversial talk among the historian community. Rao’s appointment has been questioned by many due to his dubious credentials. With no writings published in any peer reviewed journals, which is sort of a bench mark of academic proficiency in his profession, Rao is hardly one who may be called an ‘eminent’ historian. It has also been alleged by some that the HRD ministry was given a list of suggestions for the post by ICHR which was completely ignored and Rao was made the chairman out of the blue. With many historians much more qualified and preferredÂ for the post, Rao’s appointment looks like a politically motivated one.
ICHR is an autonomous organization which was established in 1972. The objectives of the ICHR are essentially to promote balanced and coordinated research and discussion of different areas of history by eliciting support and recognition for historical research from historians and to ensure the necessary dissemination and use of results.
Among other things, fueling the controversy about his appointment are his opinions on caste system in India that he has expressed on his blog. Rao claimed that the Caste system has been misinterpreted and is actually good. He also said that social customs in India can be traced to the period of Muslim rule in North India. Further, his objectives as Chairman include proving the authenticity of Mahabharata and tracing the exact date when it happened which most historians claim is a futile research as it has been done for centuries in the past but to no avail.
The appointment of Rao as the Chairman of ICHR has many perils. With scant or no regard or recognition by historians, there looms a shadow of distrust on ICHR under his leadership. To be a leader of an organization, it is a must that he is trusted and respected by those without whose able guidance, cooperation and support, he cannot move forward with any of his goals. It is indisputable that to excel in any social science, it is incumbent to be seen as academically worthy in the eyes of those who have already earnt recognition. How in such circumstances will Rao move ahead or solicit the cooperation of those who already despise him, is hard to fathom.
Rao’s opinions about casteism, Hindu mythological texts and other issues are largely reflective of his Hindutva ideology. How then will they remainÂ ‘personal’Â as he claimed in an interview and not color his perception about history? A leader so mired in personal bias and staunch beliefs about a subject which should only rely on facts and scientific proof cannot inspire untainted, fresh, unbiased and scientific approach to look into the past.
Among the many concerns that have raised eyebrows in the past couple of weeks are the motives of this government. Rao was also selected as a member of ICHR by the previous NDA regime. This coupled with utter disregard of more renowned historians much more worthy of the post has already painted Rao as the face of the government’s agent to promote Hindutva ideology. This is also a severe blow to the principles of secularism which is a basic feature of our constitution.
Moreover, Rao’s appointment which seems largely backed by a political agenda makes one question the autonomy of ICHR. Selecting a leader willing to invest funds in unguided research to establish the dates of Mahabharata and Ramayana without the cooperation and trust of other learned historians is a road full of dangers with a lot to lose. It’s not just the resources at stake, but the integrity of ICHR, an organization which many believe to be redundant already. Why can’t an autonomous body with the prime purpose to foster historical research have an elected chairman by the community of historians?
Distortion of history has been the cause of a lot of bloodshed in our country since ancient times. Ours is a diverse country in the widest possible meaning of that term and history unites as much as divides all of our people. It is and always will be a very sensitive topic in our nation. To take a scientific,and unbiased approach towards research work and to present it with sensitivity and sensibility is not just the duty but is incumbent on the head of an organization such as ICHR. With such a patchy start to his chairmanship, and little support from other historians to bank on, how far does Rao go fulfilling the role and responsibility thrust upon him by the government would be interesting to see.