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Appointment and disappointment

Print edition : Jul 21, 2001 T+T-

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government took the reins of government in New Delhi in 1999, one of its priorities was to ensure that academic and research institutions are headed by persons who are not hostile to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. The Ministry of Human Resource Development under Murli Manohar Joshi has been implementing this goal consistently, and most of the appointments it made have drawn criticism, mainly from secular forces. Of late, even the supporters and ideological allies of the BJP have resented some of its moves. The first sign of such resentment came when M.L. Sondhi, Chairman of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) and a favourite of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, lashed out at sections of the bureaucracy of the HRD Ministry and at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh loyalists for interfering in matters concerning the ICSSR. It was a case of a turf war within the Parivar rather than of an ideological strife between secular and non-secular forces as was sought to be projected in some quarters.

A similar conflict surfaced in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) recently following the demise of its Chairman B.R. Grover on May 10. On May 19, the HRD Ministry appointed K.S. Lal, a historian known for his adherence to the Sangh Parivar brand of history, as ICHR Chairman. Many people, including Lal, assumed that he would continue in the post for the remaining one and a half years of a three-year tenure. But that was not to be. Lal fell out with the HRD Ministry when he resisted the appointment of R.C. Aggarwal, former Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, as Member-Secretary of the ICHR. Aggarwal is an archaeologist and it was for the first time in the history of the ICHR that a person who is not a historian was appointed to the post.

Lal is the seniormost historian in the 26-member Council, which includes ex-officio members, government Secretaries, and so on. The rules governing the members' tenure are clear. Rules 8 and 9 of the Council state that persons appointed to fill a vacancy shall hold office only for the remaining period of the term of membership. This applies to the post of Chairman, for the rules state that the Chairman is a member of the Council as well. While refusing to be drawn into the controversy over the tenure, Lal told Frontline that the only thing that upset him was the manner in which information about his removal was conveyed to him by the Ministry. He said the language of his appointment letter was rather "roundabout" in stating that the appointment was temporary. "I thought I would stay on till October 2002, that is, when Grover's term expired. It is as if professionals can be treated in any manner," he said. According to Lal, he was given a letter on July 2 notifying the appointment of M.G.S. Narayanan as the new chairperson. He lamented that no one had the courtesy to inform him in advance about the change.

About the appointment of the Member-Secretary, Lal said that he wrote to Murli Manohar Joshi that an advertisement calling for applications for the post of Member-Secretary could be issued in August when the Council's term expired. It was not necessary that the Member-Secretary should be a person from Delhi, Lal had said in the letter. Lal said that the Ministry interfered with the regular work of the ICHR.

NARAYANAN, a specialist in Ancient History, was Member-Secretary of the ICHR during 1990-1992 when Professor Irfan Habib was its Chairman. He says that he is not a Marxist and that he is a believer in Hindutva to the extent that he is a Hindu and an inheritor of a great tradition. ICHR insiders do not expect any controversy over his appointment because, according to them, despite his proximity to the BJP, Narayanan is not a "hardliner". A competent historian, he is keen on the ICHR bringing out the remaining volumes of the "Towards Freedom" project - a fact that can possibly mollify the critics of the government. Narayanan told Frontline that "there cannot be history without differences".

Narayanan was Professor and Head of the Department of History in Calicut University from 1976 to 1990. He was the president of the Ancient India section of the Indian History Congress (IHC) in Hyderabad in 1978. He was the general secretary of the IHC during 1982-1985. He was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow University, in 1991. He has served on the Editorial Committee of the Journal of Indian History, Kerala, and on the editorial board of Indian Historical Review, ICHR.

Narayanan has published 44 research papers and authored many books, which include Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala, Aspects of Aryanisation in Kerala, and Foundations of South Indian Society and Culture.