January 10, 2020

Indian History Congress Holds its 80th Annual Session

From a Correspondent

THE Indian History Congress (IHC) met for its 80th annual session at Kannur, Kerala, on December 28-30, 2019. The Kannur University hosted the session, receiving a generous grant from the government of Kerala for the purpose. Over 1300 delegates attended the session from all parts of India.

It was expected that the inaugural session with which the History Congress opens would be held on December 28, according to the conventions of the History Congress. This, however, could not be followed on the Kerala governor’s staff’s insistence, so that all office-bearers (except three) and members of the executive committee were excluded from the dais, while a huge chair was provided for the governor, who, as chancellor of the host university was expected merely to give a welcome address. (Incidentally, at the 77th session of IHC at Thiruvananthapuram when both the president of India and the then governor of Kerala were on the dais, there was no such insistence on the part of their staff). A barricade was erected between the dais and the ground where the delegates sat. This ground too was barricaded into three sections barring all cross movement by delegates. A fair number of police also stood on the rostrum.

The session opened as usual, with the installation of the new general president, Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi, the eminent economic historian, who duly delivered his presidential address, ‘Imperialism from the Eleventh to the Twentyfirst Century: Theory and Stylised Facts’. In his address, Professor Bagchi presented a wide-ranging theoretical and factual survey of the history of capitalism and of the important role that colonial exploitation has played in its triumph. He took his narrative down to the present state of imperialism where exploitation of nations takes place despite the end of the formal colonial system. (The address was printed, as per usual practice, and distributed among delegates).

Before the president’s address, Ramachandran Kadannappalli, minister for archaeology, museums and science, and K K Rajesh, MP (Rajya Sabha) delivered speeches of welcome. Rajesh drew attention to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and commented on its divisive nature.
Arif Mohammad Khan, former Congress minister and now BJP-appointed governor of Kerala, instead of welcoming the History Congress on behalf of the host university, ignored totally the general president’s highly academic address, and so claimed falsely that there had till then been nothing but “politics” in the previous speeches. He claimed that this gave him liberty to denounce the critics of the CAA as ignoramuses or worse. He gave a dubious quotation from Gandhiji and another from Abul Kalam Azad as if their censure applied to critics of CAA. At this, Professor Irfan Habib, the senior vice president of the History Congress, protested, and there was general commotion among the delegates. The governor thereupon abandoned his speech and departed from the site of the session along with his heavy police escort.

In the meantime, the police detained four delegates and took their photographs and biometric data. Though they were then released, the History Congress General Body later passed a resolution requesting the government of Kerala not to allow their personal details to be passed on to the central or other security agencies. It is understood that this has been taken care of by the government of Kerala.

The Indian History Congress inaugural session continued after the governor’s departure according to its own conventions, and its office-bearers reclaimed the rostrum. A major part of the proceedings consisted of the award of various awards and prizes that have been instituted for books on history. The most prestigious prize the H K Barpujari National Award for the book on history judged best in a period of three years, went to the well-known historian Professor Ramachandra Guha on his book on Mahatma Gandhi. The Hira Lal Gupta Research Award for the best book on history by a woman historian in the same period of years, went to Professor Sarvani Gooptu for her book on the musician Dwijendralal Roy. Other prize winners for their books included Dr Anjali Verma, Dr Rajeev Kinra, Dr Harmony Singaporia and Dr Alakar Atreya Chudal. In addition, a number of prizes were awarded for research papers on particular themes, published in the Indian History Congress Proceedings.

The volume of Proceedings of the 79th session was also released by the president, Professor Bagchi. It is a notable achievement of the IHC that it regularly prints duly refereed papers presented at its session in its annual volume of Proceedings.

The academic sections began their session in the afternoon on December 28. There were six such sections, each of which had its respective sectional president, viz. Section I (Ancient India): Professor Suchandra Ghosh, Section II (Medieval India): Professor Farhat Hasan, Section III (Modern India): Professor M D David, Section IV (Countries other than India): Professor B R Deepak, Section V (Archaeology): Dr V Selvakumar, and Section VI (Contemporary History of India): Professor Zoya Hasan, (who being unwell was not able to  attend). All the sectional presidential addresses were printed and presented before each section at the beginning. The sectional meetings continued on December 29 and ended by noon on the 30th. Over 500 papers were presented in all at the various sections.

In the evening of the first day, the eminent journalist, N Ram delivered the Professor S C Misra Memorial Lecture on the past and present situation of the press in India. He felt that press freedom is now facing a great danger owing to the pressure from authoritarianism, and that resistance to it needs to be much stronger than is the case at present.

On the second day, a symposium on Heterodoxy in Indian history was held in the evening. Professor K M Shrimali, in a printed contribution (‘Heresy, Heterodoxy and Non-Conformism in Early India’) delineated in detail the heterodox streams that enlivened ancient India’s religious traditions. Professor Irfan Habib dealt with how Islamic beliefs wrestled with moral and rational critiques, based on both social disquiet and ideological debates, beginning with Kabir and ending with Ghalib. Professor Sugata Bose (from US) traced a succession of episodes in the national movement, illustrating inter-communal unity. 

Alongside the lively conduct of the meetings of the six sections, there were also special panels, one on the history of Kerala and another on Dalit history. Both were well attended.

The Aligarh Historians Society organised a very successful panel on Reconstructing the Women’s History of India, held on December 29-30. Twenty papers were presented, nearly all of them being pre-circulated in a volume. Particularly to be mentioned are papers by Professors Utsa Patnaik, Uma Chakravarti and Shireen Moosvi among others. A very topical paper was by Dr Parvathi Menon on the Sabarimala issue.

Dr K T Jaleel, minister for higher education, Kerala, and a historian himself, sprang a pleasant surprise by deciding to come and address the Indian History Congress delegates on the forenoon of December 30. While welcoming the History Congress session he explained why it was imperative for all of us to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the BJP’s plan to hunt and track down alleged non-citizens. 

The History Congress concluded its 80th session with a general body meeting on the afternoon of December 30. The delegates approved as many as eight resolutions recommended by the executive committee.

The resolution on the so-called ‘National Educational Policy’ warned against the heavy dose of Sanskrit that it wants to impose on all students and researchers, which would surely restrict the capacity for imbibing knowledge of the more crucial subjects. The creation of a National Research Fund directly controlled by government of India is also fraught with the danger of its funding chauvinistic projects to the detriment of genuine research. The Indian History Congress demanded that educational planning be entrusted to genuine “stakeholders at various levels” and “renowned experts in the field” rather than mere promoters of a weird ideology.

A resolution titled “Defence of Composite Culture” called upon all state authorities to fulfill their constitutional duty of promoting composite culture. It decried the recent official tendency at the centre and in some states to communalise the historical narrative for “partisanal purposes”.

A rather detailed resolution called on the Archaeological Survey to do more to protect and preserve our built heritage (monuments) and especially avoid so reconstructing them under the guise of “restoration” (as in the work of the Agha Khan Foundation) that their value may be totally lost for historical purposes.

There was a special resolution expressing “deep concern” on the adverse conditions for education and research created in Jammu and Kashmir by “the official closure of internet and libraries, and non-functioning of educational institutions since August 2019”. It expressed dismay at the detention without trial of large number of persons, including minors, and without credible charge. It therefore, called upon “all authorities concerned to lift all restrictions on internet and take other measures to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir”, so as to create conditions conducive for normal academic life.

By another resolution the History Congress expressed its alarm at the tendency of the police to harass students of particular universities, there, citing examples of the JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University.

A resolution, while deploring the detention of four delegates at the inaugural session, expressed the History Congress’s confidence that the state government of Kerala, being vigilant in protecting the civil liberty of all individuals, would not furnish details of these delegates to other agencies.
The Indian History Congress regretted the decision of the Indian Council of Historical Research to withhold its usual annual subsidy to the History Congress for the last two years, and expressed hope that it would review its decision.

Finally, the History Congress passed a resolution expressing its sense of gratitude to the state government of Kerala for its generous grant to the host institution, which made the holding of the session possible. It also expressed its appreciation for the attention the delegates received from Professor R Gopinath, vice-chancellor of the Kannur University, and Professor P Mohandas, the local secretary, along with their colleagues and volunteers, and for the excellent way in which the Congress sessions were hosted and hospitality extended to the delegates.

It may here be mentioned that the team from the JNU, accompanying the secretary, Professor Mahalakshmi, won much appreciation from the delegates for their enthusiasm and hard work in registering delegates and organising the various meetings.

The History Congress re-elected Professor Mahalakshmi Ramakrishnan (JNU) as the secretary, along with Dr Burton Cletus as the treasurer and Professor Bodh Prakash as joint secretary in-charge of the permanent office, while Professor Dayanand Roy was elected as the other joint secretary.

Professor Kesavan Veluthat, an eminent historian of ancient India, was elected general president of the Indian History Congress, 81st session.

The sectional presidents elected for the same session are: Section I: Prof. Malini Adiga, II: Prof. Ishrat Alam, III: Prof. Salil Misra, IV: Prof. Margit Kӧves, V: Dr. Bishnupriya Basak, and VI: Prof. Sudha Pai. Prof. Irfan Habib and Prof. K M Shrimali were elected vice-presidents.

The executive committee of 20 members is elected by ballot by delegates. But there being no more than 20 nominations there was no balloting, and the following were declared elected: Prof. Arun Bandopadhyaya, Prof. Susnata Das, Prof. Ajay Kumar Ghosh, Prof. Ravindra Gopinath, Prof. Tejimala Gurung, Prof. Farhat Hasan, Prof. S.Z.H. Jafri, Prof. Dharmendra Kumar, Prof. Shyam Narayan Lal, Prof. Aditya Mukherjee, Dr. K.K. Mandal, Prof. Shireen Moosvi, Prof. Chandi Prasad Nanda, Prof. Hitendra Patel, Prof. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Prof. Sudhir Kumar Singh, Prof. C P N Sinha, Prof. O P Srivastava, Prof. Sanjay Subodh and Prof. G J Sudhakar.