Stifled by saffron agenda

Print edition : August 12, 2005

D. Bandyopadhyay. - V.V. KRISHNAN

The D. Bandyopadhyay Committee indicts the administrations of the ICHR and IIAS for financial impropriety and for compromising academic standards during the NDA regime.

THE affairs of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Shimla, are once again in the public eye. Compelling evidence of financial and academic irregularities in these autonomous research bodies, plus a commitment made by the present government in the Common Minimum Programme to "de-saffronise" government-funded academic institutes, prompted the present Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to set up a one-person committee to review the affairs of the ICHR and IIAS in September 2004. D. Bandyopadhyay, a distinguished retired civil servant, was given the mandate to review their administration and functioning between 1998 and 2004, the period when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed the coalition government at the Centre, and Murli Manohar Joshi was Human Resource Development Minister.

The final reports of the Bandyopadhyay Committee, which include a set of recommendations, were submitted to the HRD Ministry in July.

Apart from all the relevant files, reports, minutes of meetings, press clippings and other internal documents from institutes, the Committee issued public notices in leading newspapers asking interested persons to provide information on its terms of reference. It individually consulted 78 historians for the ICHR report, and in respect of the IIAS report, it sent letters to 126 academicians soliciting their views on the terms of reference. It submitted interim reports on the two institutes in just five months.

The reports are a damning indictment of the administration of the two bodies over the last five years, and of the people in whose hands their leadership was vested by the BJP-led government.

The committee has found serious financial impropriety in the disbursement of research grants and funding by both the ICHR and the IIAS. It has documented evidence of how academic programmes were so seriously compromised that even plagiarism was overlooked. Uniformly, institutional patronage was extended to "research" themes in ancient Indian history and archaeology that glorified Hindu and Aryan culture. The story of how the mandates of two academic and research bodies were subverted and corrupted between 1998 and 2004 is convincingly presented in the Bandyopadhyay reports.

Some of the important issues brought under the scanner of the 220-page ICHR report are the "Towards Freedom" project volumes and why their publication was stopped; the bias in the award of ICHR scholarships, and in the grants given by it for seminars and conferences of professional historians; the ICHR's research programme; and the special projects of the ICHR during the last five years, the last of which Bandyopadhyay has referred to as "a component of a sinister design".

G.C. Pande, former IIAS Chairman, garlanding an image of Saraswati on the occasion of the ICHR Foundation Day Lecture on March 27, 2004.G.C. Pande, former IIAS Chairman, garlanding an image of Saraswati on the occasion of the ICHR Foundation Day Lecture on March 27, 2004.-

In respect of awarding research grants, the report says that the ICHR Council approved 96 research grants on which Rs.82,51,000 was expended. It faults the ICHR for not awarding projects in new and unexplored areas of research. More seriously, it says that the monitoring of both the progress of these projects and their finances was weak. The report said that the ICHR Council "failed to exercise the minimum degree of quality control and financial discipline... (and).. acted as a fairly irresponsible funding agency".

This was also true of the Junior Research Fellow (JRF) scholarships awarded between 1997 and 1999, where the Council displayed financial laxity in monitoring scholarships and ideological bias in choosing fellows. The report notes that between 1997-1998 and 1998-1999, 47 JRF fellows (17 per cent of the total number of fellows) neither submitted their manuscripts nor refunded their scholarship money as on August 2002. In terms of research areas, the report notes that 41 per cent of the total number of JRFs awarded in the same period were in the areas of ancient Indian history, culture, art, archaeology and philosophy. Research funding rules of the ICHR mention 16 research themes: the ICHR concentrated on two, namely ancient India and archaeology, according to the report.

The pattern of research funding suggests that the Council "acted with a bias and prejudice in favour of and against certain themes and topics", writes Bandyopadhyay.

Bias, however, extended well beyond this. Bandyopadhyay's scrutiny of the ICHR records, and his interviews with a range of professional historians in the country, revealed that JRFs were denied to candidates "from certain areas and institutions, totally ignoring the consideration of merit, leading to undue victimisation of innocent research scholars for not toeing a particular line. Rejection cases show a definite prejudice against women, Dalits, Schedule Castes, Other Backward Classes and minorities".

The prestige of the ICHR's National Fellowship was seriously compromised during this period. "This fellowship was awarded to person(s) of no academic standing and even to persons in no way connected to historical research, thereby debasing the coveted fellowship," the report notes. Bandyopadhyay makes special mention of the "highly discriminatory treatment meted out to an outstanding anthropologist and historian Dr. K.S. Singh". The term of a National Fellowship is extendable from two to three years if requested by the scholar. Singh was denied an extension. Bandyopadhyay's reading of the relevant files led him to the conclusion that this was punishment for Singh's thesis on the plurality of Indian culture, which was contrary to the "basic tenets of the then ruling establishment of a unified and homogenised culture of India".

The most flagrant violations of the ICHR charter, however, occurred in the Special Projects launched by the ICHR Council during this period, according to the report. The Special Projects Programme was started by the ICHR in 1999. Thirteen projects were approved by the ICHR, which sanctioned Rs.1,51,43,000 for these projects. Of the 13 projects, only one each pertained to medieval and modern Indian history - the rest were in the area of ancient history, culture and archaeology. While the maximum grant sanctioned for an ordinary research project is Rs.2.5 lakhs, the Special Projects were sanctioned sums of Rs.23.85 lakhs ("History and Archaeology of Indian Ocean Trade: Roman, Arab and Chinese (200 B.C. - A.D. 1200)" by S.P. Gupta), Rs.20 lakhs ("Archaeological Atlas of the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation" by K.N. Dixit), Rs.16.11 lakhs ("Archaeology and Tradition: A Study of Indo-European and Indo-Aryan Languages" by D.N. Tripathi) and so on, "without scrutiny and sometimes without project proposals". Three of the projects were subsequently abandoned, leaving 10 fully funded special projects.

At around the same time, notes Bandyopadhyay, G.C. Pande, the then Chairman of the IIAS, Shimla, also submitted a proposal to the HRD Ministry for the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Indian Civilisation within the IIAS at an estimated annual cost of Rs.69,66,976. Another project, entitled "History of Science, Philosophy, and Culture in Indian Civilisation" with D.P. Chattopadhyaya as project director was launched in association with the Indian Council for Philosophical Research (ICPR). The first volume of this project, edited by Pande, entitled "The Dawn of Indian Civilisation (up to circa 600 B.C.)" was published in 1999. Three prestigious academic bodies launched a set of research projects on a similar theme at the same time. The Special Projects Programme "should not be looked at in isolation", the report concludes. "It was part of a much larger ominous design of developing a homogenous, hegemonistic, dominant unified culture and civilisation of India, glorifying the past and devoid of any scientific temper and objectivity which is required for the study of any ancient civilisation."

The Special Projects were approved hastily "without any hypothesis, scrutiny, evaluation or assessment of the work already published", says the report and, in violation of the Memorandum of Association of the ICHR, by ad hoc committees of experts, constituted by persons who themselves had submitted project proposals. In projects that involved several lakhs of public funds, the "benefactors were the beneficiaries of their own benefaction. Charity began at home", the report says.

D.N. Tripathi, the present Chairman of the ICHR, for example, was part of the Research Project Committee that approved a grant to himself for a project on "Archaeology and Tradition" of Rs.16.11 lakhs, according to the report. This was approved without a project proposal. In the proposal that was finally submitted by Tripathi in October 2000, there occurs three plagiarised paragraphs, lifted verbatim from G.C. Pande's proposal in October 1999 to the HRD Ministry for the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Indian Civilisation at IIAS, according to the report. Despite reminders from the Sub-Committee of Experts (Special Projects) for progress reports and statement of accounts from Tripathi, nothing was forthcoming. When he was appointed Chairman of the ICHR, Tripathi suggested that the project should be kept in abeyance till the Council found a suitable substitute. "In short, he abandoned the project without doing a jot of research work for which the Council had already spent Rs.7,32,807," says the report.

The transgressions by the ICHR that the report has enumerated, many of them pointed out in the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in 2003-04, are too numerous to document here. Significant among them is the funding of religious bodies, which is expressly forbidden by the Research Funding Rules of the ICHR. In March 2004, a grant of Rs.1 lakh was given to the Akhil Bhartiya Veda Rakshana Samiti, which was headed by Murli Manohar Joshi and on the Advisory Council of which Tripathi was a member.

THE state of affairs in the IIAS, Shimla, during the same period was not much better, as the 180-page IIAS report by Bandyopadhyay attests to. The IIAS was established in 1965 as a residential centre where researchers could pursue interdisciplinary studies on themes in the humanities and social sciences, religion, cultural studies and the natural sciences. The Society of the IIAS comprises its governing body, the chairman, Vice-Chairman, Director and Secretary. G.C. Pande was appointed as the president of the Society and the Chairman of the Governing Body by the BJP-led government in 1998-99.

Numerous instances of academic and financial mismanagement has been recorded in the IIAS report. For example, the Director of the IIAS, which is a residential institute, virtually became a "non-resident" Director, having been away from the institute for 65 per cent of her total tenure. On the financial side, the CAG's reports for the years 1998-99 to 2002-03 had 20 paragraphs relating to several irregularities amounting in total to Rs.453.62 lakhs. In 2003-04, the audit objected to almost 81 per cent of the total expenditure, according to the IIAS report. There were large financial losses owing to mismanagement of the publications programme of the institute.

The report points to a sudden increase in the number of fellows who were given scholarships just prior to the elections of 2004. Between 1999 and 2003, the average number of fellows selected per year was 15.2 and the average number of fellows who joined was 9.6. According to the report, there was more than 100 per cent increase in these figures in 2004, to 32 and 19 respectively. The Bandyopadhyay Committee in its report has stated that the Chairman appeared to have been in a hurry to pack the IIAS with fellows to be selected by a panel of experts chosen by him without going through any process. Of the fellows chosen in 2004, eight had not even applied for the post, says the report.

Six out of 60 researchers who completed their tenure in the IIAS between April 1996 and March 2004 did not submit their final manuscripts. The institute had spent Rs.10,58,108 on these six scholars. The academic standards of over 50 per cent of the research manuscripts actually submitted by IIAS researchers were so low that the institute did not find it fit to publish 30 of them, says the report. The fellowship programme also appears to have been most discriminatory in its choice of fellows.

The Bandyopadhyay Committee found that there was not a single Muslim candidate, only one Schedule Caste candidate, and four Christian candidates among the 92 persons chosen for fellowships from 1998-99 to 2004-05. By contrast, 22 of the 239 fellows from 1966 to 1992 were Muslims.

Academic standards were so eroded in the period under review, that even the prestigious Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecture, which is usually given by a distinguished scholar, became the domain of politicians holding high office in Himachal Pradesh, notes the report.

The academic programme of the IIAS was severely compromised in the period under review. Collaboration for seminars with outside organisations, mandated by the rules of the IIAS, was extended to organisations with Hindu communal leanings to the exclusion of other reputed organisations. The IIAS collaborated with the Centre for Study of Civilisation, the Ved Vidya Prathistan, the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. The proceedings of these collaborative seminars were so substandard that the institute decided not to publish them. The IIAS report notes that the abstracts of papers presented at the seminars suggest that a large number of them were "basically propagandist literature". The institute, on the recommendation of Shri Kireet Joshi, Member of the Governing Body, gave a donation of Rs.2 lakhs to the Akhila Bharatiya Veda Rakshna Samiti to hold an "Akhila Bharatiya Vedic Sammelan" in New Delhi, in February 2004. The budget of the conclave included an expenditure of Rs.4. lakhs as dakshina to Brahmin pandits, the report states. "There were many such instances where the institute acted merely as a funding agency without any say on the academic deliberations" notes the report. "The institute's active involvement, willful participation and financial patronisation of a religious ceremony in which dakshinas to Brahmins including reverential offerings to His Holiness, Shri Jayendra Saraswasti, only indicated how far the institute degenerated from the noble ideals for which it was established by Dr. Radhakrishanan. The institute had incurred huge infructuous and wasteful expenditure in funding and sponsoring such non-academic events and/or events of doubtful academic value in the last five years, with motives other than scholastic or academic."

A major project initiated by the IIAS in 2000 was called "Study on Indian Civilisation". It cost the institute Rs.1.8 crores. "The project was mainly to capture the glory and grandeur of ancient Indian Civilisation," the report notes. Its theoretical framework as laid out in the project proposal was stated in terms of discovering the "foundational vision" that is the "root of any society as civilisational order". This vision "expresses itself in various modes, as myths, as symbols, as philosophy, as theology and so on. All these modes aim at unveiling the real nature of the cosmos and the status and role of man and society in it as its part". On perusing the files of the project, the Committee found that there was neither an attempt to review existing literature to look for gaps that could be researched, nor was there a clear cut plan to execute the project. While an ad hoc appointment of a Project Administrative Officer was made, the de facto director of the project was the Chairman, G.C. Pande, according to the report. The project went into a "state of limbo" with the departure of Pande. "The progress so far achieved as reported in the Annual Reports and Academic Profile of the Institute is far from satisfactory and the manner in which it was being executed clearly showed evidence of academic cronyism verging on malfeasance," the report notes.

The ICHR and IIAS, according to the carefully documented reports of the Bandyopadhyay Committee, suffered enormous damage to their academic standing and credibility under the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre. The Committee has made several recommendations that would strengthen the autonomy of these bodies and help inure them from political interference of the kind they were subjected to in the last five years. The publication of the reports would place the issue in the public domain for public debate.

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