The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has not crowned itself with glory when it omitted the picture of Jawaharlal Nehru from the poster published on its website on the occasion of what it calls ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75th Independence Day celebrations). The poster has the pictures of eight persons, including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad and VD Savarkar.
The heavens would not have fallen if the picture of the first Prime Minister of India was included in the poster to make it nine, like the Navratnas (nine jewels) of yore. After all, few had gone to jail nine times and spent as many as 3,259 days, almost nine years, as Nehru did. Unlike another who was included, he did not seek any clemency from the British!
By leaving out Nehru, whose seminal works like the ‘Discovery of India’ and the ‘Glimpses of World History’ were written while he was in jail with minimum library facilities and no secretarial assistance, the ICHR has belittled itself, not Nehru. He was not just a national leader but one of the founders of the non-aligned movement, who stood up to the machinations of the two power blocs that tried to dominate the world.
No matter what the ICHR does, he will continue to live in the hearts of the people the world over as one of the architects of modern India, whose letters to the chief ministers on various national and international issues remain unparalleled in their sweep and appeal.
The ICHR has no need to be a supplicant of the government, whatever be its hue, for its primary commitment is to promote the study of history. A change of government does not and should not mean that some of the icons of the freedom struggle or those who shaped modern history are dumped in the graveyard and some others are resurrected to replace them as the new icons.
Alas, the members of the council seem to think that they are an adjunct of the government and their responsibility is to please those in power. The recent deletion of nearly 387 names from the list of freedom fighters is a case in point and it points to the political agenda of the council.
The names so deleted include those like Varian Kunneth Kunjahmed Ali and Ali Musaliar, who took part in what is called the Malabar Revolt a century ago. There can be differences of opinion on those who took part in the revolt, seen variously as an agrarian struggle and a fight against the British but that does not mean that there should be any disrespect to those who can no longer defend themselves.
Conveniently removing some names for communal or sectarian reasons is to forget the fact that the freedom struggle had the involvement of all sections of people, some moderate, some extremist. The struggle reflected the composite culture of India, not of just one section.
The cellular jail in Andamans has the names of all those who suffered and died at the hands of the British and the Japanese who controlled the jail. They did not see themselves as Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or upper castes or lower castes. They were there because they did not accept the British as their masters. They preferred to be tortured and killed, instead of seeking pardon and release from the jail. They did not expect any glory when they volunteered to suffer and those sitting in the air-conditioned comforts of the ICHR office would do well to at least not disrespect them.
In the study of history, there cannot be an ostrich-like policy. Just because no Indian liked the British rule in India, no one can write off the 200 or so years that they ruled or remained in India. Similarly, the present dispensation may not like the Mughals for reasons which are too well known to recapitulate here, but can the Mughal rule be forgotten and its contribution to the socio-economic development of the country erased?
It seems some in the NDA government think so, as is borne out by what a Union ministry did on its website. There was a small paragraph mentioning how the Mughals were able to bring vast swathes of the country under one rule, which eventually led to the unification of the country. Someone thought it necessary to delete the paragraph leaving the space with some photographs showcasing the various dance styles of the country. They can only be called too clever by half!
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