Close on the heels of the resignation of Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Chief Editor of Indian Historical Review, in April, Y. Sudershan Rao, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, publisher of the prestigious journal, has disbanded its advisory committee.
Historians say the decision, taken on Tuesday, has robbed the journal of its sheen. Gopinath Ravindran, member-secretary of the council, is learnt to have objected to the decision and questioned the rationale for the sudden change.
Sources in the council say no reasons were offered for the summary dismissal of the committee. Asked about his future course of action, Mr. Ravindran, who was appointed by the previous government, refused to comment. A member, it is learnt, spoke rudely when questions were raised about the decision taken at a time when the journal was doing well and had even turned profitable.
“Sage Publications had started paying royalty to the ICHR last year after a slump in circulation, which lasted from 1997 to 2008. This is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate matters by making the members of the council also double up as the advisory members to the journal,” B.P. Sahu, former council member, academic, said. “The purpose of the advisory committee was to look far and wide for good research papers which could be published in this peer-reviewed journal.” He said the mandate of the publication would now be limited by confining the task to 18 council members.
Mr. Bhattacharya resigned over differences in the historical approach to the writing of history. The impact of the sweeping changes brought about by Mr. Rao will be felt only next June as much of the work for this year has been done.
Time to research traditional sources, says ICHR chief
His appointment as chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research last year by Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani had sparked speculation about the future turn that history would take under his care.
A year later, Y. Sudershan Rao, a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, affiliated to the RSS, has made the first change in the council by disbanding the 22-member advisory board to the Indian Historical Review journal, surprising both the ousted members as well as historians.
The board had Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, Irfan Habib, Muzaffar Alam and 17 other internationally renowned scholars as its members. The chief editor of the journal, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, had put in his papers a month ago, worried at what he called the “new members fantasising about history.”
On his decision to disband the advisory board, Mr. Rao said no single piece of communication existed on the appointment of the 22 members on the panel. “I looked for records on their appointment and found there were none. They never met and perhaps were never asked to give any advice on any issue by the previous councils.”
“It [the board] was for all practical purposes a sleeping one continued indefinitely, in the fond hope, expecting extra miles without actually treading any extra paces,” he said.
In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Rao said changes in the advisory committee are routine whenever a new council is constituted. As for the illustrious names on the now-disbanded panel, he said, “The standard of journal only depends on the articles published in it, not on sporting well-known names on its advisory.”
Mr. Rao also clarified that he had no differences with Mr. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. He, however, said the time had come to research the traditional sources of knowledge and look at the traditional ways in which history has been written.
On the project he is focussing on, namely affixing a date to Mahabharata, Mr. Rao said, “A careful examination of the text shows the names of kings and the regions from where they came from to fight the big battle. Recently, many research works have come out suggesting the date to be about 3000 BC, based on scientific data. Some, of course, deny ascribing any historicity to the epics and Puranas, again for their own ‘good reasons.’ It doesn’t mean that ‘others’ should not work on these sources. In research, one cannot foresee the conclusion. One has to arrive at it.”