Some months before he died in February 1980, R.C. Majumdar recalled how the veteran freedom fighter K.M. Munshi “believed that a government sponsored institution can never document history in an honest manner. I realized this truth in the later years. The federal government built an editorial board to document India’s freedom struggle with me as the chief editor. I discovered that other fellow historians were so eager to write history glorifying their friends in politics that I had to get out. We should not write corrupted history, however bitter the proceedings may be…” (Mallige monthly, May 1980).
Majumdar was hinting at his unhappy experience with Jawaharlal Nehru, who today stands poised on the verge of a serious indictment in the matter of Subhash Chandra Bose’s mysterious exit from public life. With Taiwan debunking the air crash theory, it is only a matter of time before the truth is out. The Congress-led UPA’s reluctance to extend the M.K. Mukherjee Commission’s tenure will at best buy a brief reprieve.
For the present, however, we are saddled with the burden of a corrupted history being foisted upon us by Leftist historians, who have recaptured the commanding heights of State patronage in academia. Once again, their energies are focused upon reviving the controversial Towards Freedom project, which nourished a galaxy of eminent Leftist scholars for 26 long years at a princely sum of over Rs. Four crores, with miniscule output.
Towards Freedom is more than a financial scandal. Readers may recall my previous writings, but some points are worth recapitulating in the light of the Bandopadhyay Committee’s attempt to resurrect this discredited project and give Indian Leftists the official mandate (with Congress’ blessings) to diminish the freedom struggle and shift responsibility for Partition away from Jinnah and the Muslim League and blame the Hindu leaders of the Indian National Congress. The Left has pursued this pernicious objective since the late Nurul Hasan became Minister of State for Education over three decades ago.
The genesis of the project lies in British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s decision in May 1966 to sponsor an official history of Britain’s departure from the colonies, beginning with India. This triggered off political and academic concern in India that the freedom struggle might be misrepresented; Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia proposed rebutting Pakistani and British propaganda on the sequence of events leading firstly to Partition and secondly to Independence.
Towards Freedom was thus conceived as a nationalist riposte to the British “Transfer of Power” series. The Indian Historical Records Commission discussed the matter at its Patna session in January 1968 and decided to bring out a compilation of official documents, in chronological sequence. The task was entrusted to the National Archives of India (NAI). The original project envisaged covering the period from 1939–47 in three volumes (beginning with the resignation of Congress provincial ministries), to be completed within five years (by 1977). NAI engaged scholars to collect documents nationwide and ultimately gathered nearly two lakh documents.
Unfortunately, the entry of Nurul Hasan as Minister of State for Education in Indira Gandhi’s minority Government introduced an unimagined deception into the project at a nascent stage. Hasan created the ICHR at breakneck speed in 1972, and transferred a prestigious national project to a pack of handpicked Leftist historians. The motive behind ICHR’s creation was achieved in December 1975 when its Editorial Board under R.S. Sharma removed “Partition” from the draft guidelines. Thus, the proposed “Documentation on Partition and Independence of India” became “Towards Freedom,” and even this was compromised by discarding chronology (a standard academic format adopted internationally) in favour of ‘focal points’ (left to the discretion/interpretation of each Editor). Even this was not delivered in 26 years!
Students of history would be aware that in the past few decades there has been a plethora of carefully-guided “research” from Western, Indian and Pakistani scholars that has exonerated the divisive ideology of Islam and the obduracy of Jinnah for causing Partition, and instead attributed it to Congress’ thirst for power. R.S. Sharma’s crafty deletion of the causes and events leading to Partition from the scope of the Towards Freedom Project was an intrinsic part of the Left’s ideological compulsion to protect and pamper monotheistic and divisive traditions that denigrate India’s native ethos and disarm the Hindu community by distorting history. For 33 years, a Leftist cabal has effectively stalled an official documentation that would establish how Jinnah and the Muslim League achieved Pakistan! In the process, they have also dishonoured the freedom struggle and negated Hindu agony over vivisection of the motherland.
The current lap of this scandal began in 1999–2000 when ICHR stopped publication of the volumes compiled by Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar. Former chairman M.G.S. Narayanan, who has been arraigned by the UPA Government’s Bandopadhyay Committee, has explained that the Volume Editors had merely to select relevant documents from the voluminous material collected by NAI–ICHR teams; classify them; and write an Introduction, which was crucial to the work.
Narayanan claims he intervened when ICHR historian members complained that the Sarkar and Panikkar Volumes had reached Oxford University Press without clearance from the Research Committee. On perusing all minutes and files, Narayanan found this was true, and that “Panikkar’s volume had gone to the press in a hurry when there was a change in the Ministry, without the Introduction that was to be an essential part of the volume. Members rightly suspected foul play, and more such pranks. The Council asked the printers to send back the manuscripts for perusal. They refused to do so, and this naturally increased the suspicion about foul play. Finally, when the manuscripts were brought back after several months, after the court’s intervention, the worst suspicions were confirmed. Dr. Panikkar’s volume had been sent to the press without the Introduction. Dr. S. Gopal, the General Editor, had failed to notice this glaring defect or preferred to ignore it” (New Indian Express, 6 February 2005).
It would appear that the undeclared mandate of the Bandopadhyay Committee is to absolve Gopal, Sarkar and Pannikar of the charge that the volumes were sent for publication without ICHR’s knowledge and approval, and that they had unacceptable shortcomings. That is why Bandopadhyay has ignored Narayanan’s challenge to prove the allegation that the manuscripts were cleared by ICHR’s Research Committee.
Bandopadhyay had a huge mandate to scrutinize each and every aspect of ICHR’s administrative and financial functioning over the past decade. But he produced an interim report devoted exclusively to the Towards Freedom Project (as half-baked as U.C. Banerjee’s Godhra report), when the final report was due in February 2005 itself. Clearly his objective was to facilitate Leftist historians in their quest for public funding and the power to misguide historical research in the country.
That is why, despite such an abject failure to deliver a simple compilation after three decades of State funding, Bandopadhyay has the temerity to recommend “immediate revival” of the project by allocating funds and appointing a General Editor and Volume Editors (Frontline, 29 Jan.–11 Feb. 2005). It will be a terrible shame if these carpetbagger historians are rewarded for nothing, when they should be blacklisted from all publicly-funded projects. There is, however, need for a national debate on the original objective of documenting the true story of Partition.
The Pioneer, 22 February 2005