Honourable President and other distinguished guests on the dias, scholars, historians, dear students and friends; I am indeed privileged to welcome you all to Kerala, as the Chief Minister of this state, to the 77th session of the Indian History Congress, being held at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.
I am happy to note that the Indian History Congress is the major national organisation of Indian historians, and has occupied this position since its founding session under the name of Modern History Congress, held at Poona in 1935. Professor Shafaat Ahmad Khan the organisation’s first President, in his address, called upon Indian historians to study all aspects of history, rather than only political history and to emphasize the integrative factors of the past.
Its name was then changed to Indian History Congress from its second session held in 1938, and three sections, Ancient, Medieval and Modern were created for simultaneous discussions. Ever since 1938 the organisation has been able to regularly hold its sessions each year, except for certain years of exceptional national crises.
The Congress’s contribution to the promotion and encouragement of the scientific study of Indian History is noteworthy. I congratulate its pioneers and sectional presidents throughout the years, who have been instrumental in enabling the Indian History Congress attain the enviable position and respect it now enjoys among national and international scholars.
We are yet to forget the Indian Council for Historical Research’s decision to stop the publication of two volumes on the history of the freedom struggle prepared by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Prof. K. N. Panikkar, which were part of the project “Towards Freedom” edited by Prof. S. Gopal. At the turn of the century when that had happened, we had a union government of a similar dispensation as we have now, at the helm of affairs. The effort to scuttle the history project was nothing but a blatant attempt of communal and intellectual censorship. I need not remind you that even now, we live in times when serious efforts are being made, with official assistance, to peddle myths as history. Both then and now, the ICHR was one of the first bodies to be targetted by the right wing government to remove secular historians and substitute them with those who subscribe to the ideology of the RSS.
The appointment of the current Chairman of the ICHR had come under a lot of criticism, and was controversial right from the beginning, with even many among this audience saying he lacked the eminence and rigour for such a high position. Scholars including Prof. Romila Thapar said he didn’t have the requisite historical research to his credit to occupy an office that well-known historians have held in the past. Despite tendering his resignation, he still continues as Chairman. It was under his leadership that the council approved the removal of a special provision, that allowed the Indian History Congress to receive funds exceeding the fixed ceiling of Rs 5 lakh for its annual conference. The saffronisation of the Council under him had even led to the resignation of the then Member Secretary. Under him, the Council even revived the debate on the existence of the mythical river Saraswati, with even state governments, earmarking funds dedicated to its discovery.
It is not suprising that serious institutions of our country went on such tangents, when the highest offices of the country itself were projecting myths as facts, like the existence of aeroplanes, stem cell research and plastic surgery in the vedic period. It was the historians of this country that came out in one voice against such ahistorical statements and demanded that the scientific study of Indian History has to be upheld. Even earlier this year, when our country was rife with skewed debates on nationalism, many of our scholars, particularly leading historians, took upon them, the responsibility of conducting open lectures on nationalism. It was indeed a time that strengthened our united voice against the right wing, communal, fascist and authoritarian voices in our country. I would like to take this opportunity to salute your commitment to our history and to our country.
I hope that the few days that you spend here, will result in meaningful discussions and shed new light on various aspects of Indian History. I would encourage, particularly the young scholars who have assembled here, to ask more questions. Questions lead to answers, leading to more clarity. Let our understanding and writing of history become more useful in understanding and explaining our present, particularly in doing justice to the disadvantaged and marginalised of our society. On behalf of the state of Kerala, I assure you all our support in your endeavours to uphold a rational and scientific study of our past.