Eminent historian Romila Thapar’s article questioning the academic credentials of the new Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, has brought the spotlight back on the institution that was at the centre of the saffronisation debate during the first National Democratic Alliance government.
The government has zeroed in on a man few in history circles have heard of. The appointment was made quietly in the week the Human Resource Development Ministry was preoccupied with the stand-off between the UGC and Delhi University over the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme.
A blogger for several years now, Prof. Rao, who was former Head of the Department of History and Tourism Management, Kakatiya University, articulated his world view in the Chairperson’s Diary posted on the ICHR website.
Stating that he owed everything to “PujyaSri, Mahamahopadhyaya, Dr. K. Sivananda Murtyji”, Prof. Rao noted that research sponsored and conducted by the ICHR is guided by modern schools of historiography of the West. Though he has stated that he was never an RSS member, historians like D.N. Jha insist he shares the Sangh’s view in maintaining that Indian intellectual and spiritual achievements have no parallel.
Historian D.N. Jha has questioned ICHR chairman Yellapragada Sudershan Rao’s eagerness to fix a date of the Mahabharata. Prof. Jha said Marxist historians were not alone in questioning the historicity of the text. “Our own ancestors, including the great 13th Century philosopher Madhavacharya, questioned it.”
Flagging Prof. Rao’s blog of 2007 vintage on the “Indian Caste System”, Prof. Jha quipped: “He wants to bring it back. But then Narendra Modi cannot become Prime Minister under that system.” In his blog on caste system, Prof. Rao did not see it as a social evil, maintaining that the rigidity and distortions that crept into it were the result of Muslim invasions and subsequent rule.
Maintaining that all such appointments are invariably political in nature, history professor T.K. Ventakasubramanian, who was appointed ICHR member secretary by NDA in 1998, said while Prof. Rao was free to hold his views on history, the issue at hand is the fact that his writings have not been put to professional scrutiny. “It sends a wrong signal to have a person like him head the ICHR, which is supposed to give a national direction to an objective and scientific writing of history.”