Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari has said historians down the ages have sought to analyse and understand the dynamics of social interaction in different societies and their relevance was extremely important in a country like India.

He was speaking after releasing a book titled ‘History as a site of struggle’ by eminent historian K.N. Panikkar at a function organised by Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the Vice-President said, quoting the famous line with which Leo Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina. And what was true of families was true of societies too, Mr. Ansari said. The true historian would strive to explain to the reader how and why things were as they were, avoiding any kind of blind trust in tradition. The Vice-President said Mr. Panikkar stood tall in the noble fraternity of such historians.

His area of work was intellectual history, which he placed at the intersection of social and cultural history, and his focus had been on the importance of culture in the transformation of consciousness. The ‘intellectual decolonisation’ emphasised by Mr. Panikkar in his works would be often found inconvenient; but it could not be ignored, the Vice-President said. Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar, who presided over the function, said democratic socialism and secularism could be strengthened only by keeping out populism from the public debate in the country and therein was the role of the true historian and public intellectual like Mr. Panikkar.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor and historian Romila Thapar spoke at the function. Minister for Health V.S. Sivakumar and MLA, K. Muralidharan, and the author of the book Mr. Panikkar were also on the dais. Director of KCHR P.J. Cherian welcomed the gathering and academic coordinator of the institution Preeta Nayar proposed a vote of thanks.