ICHR's The Eminent Entrepreneurs!

Arun Shourie



    Answer by the Ministry for Human Resources Development to Unstarred Question number 3466 in the Rajya Sabha : "Professor Bipin Chandra was sanctioned a sum of Rs 75000 during 1987-88 for the assignment entitled 'A History of Indian National Congress'. A sum of Rs 57500 has been released to him till 23-6-1989. The remaining balance of Rs 17500 is yet to be released because a formal manuscript in this regard is yet to be received."

    I, therefore, wrote to the Ministry : "Does this mean that some informal manuscript has been received ? Or that no manuscript has been received ? If the latter is the case, how is it that nine years having passed, the scholar having taken Rs 57500 for a project and not having submitted the manuscript, no action has been taken ?"

    After some reminders, the Ministry eventually wrote to say : "... it has been confirmed by ICHR that no manuscript -- either formally or informally -- has been received so far." As regards the action taken, the Ministry said, information was being obtained from the ICHR.

    I am now informed in writing that the Rs 75000 allotted to this "eminent historian" for this project -- "the Oral History Project" -- was but a part, a small part of the total take. Bipin Chandra was given in addition Rs 200,000 by the ICSSR and Rs 400,000 through the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Neither institution has received any manuscript.

    Actually this matter became an issue when time came for this "eminent historian" to retire from the JNU. The University, naturally, could not do without his eminence. A proposal was, therefore, put up to engage him again after retirement. The then Rector of the University pointed out that, according to the University's rules, the retirement dues etc. could not be settled, and a contract to engage Bipin Chandra again could not be entered into till the accounts for the Rs 400,000 had been submitted, and that Bipin Chandra had studiously neglected to furnish the accounts. No accounts came. The then Vice-Chancellor papered over the matter.

    As nothing but nothing has turned up in the ICHR in return for its grant, the second part of my query remained : what action has the ICHR taken in the matter? I am now told, "No action has been initiated on this as Dr. Bipin Chandra is stated to be still working on the project." That is the position nine years after his eminence collected the money!

    From documents which have been furnished in response to my queries, it turns out that this is the pattern. The ICHR commenced a National Movement Project -- to which I shall come in a moment -- to document our freedom struggle from the mid-1850's. Bipin Chandra took Rs 12000 to produce the volume covering 1885-86. Result? Nothing has been heard of it since. He took another Rs 12000 for the volume covering 1932-34. Outcome? "Not submitted," says the ICHR. Being eminent, Bipin Chandra is naturally in the circle of friends among whom the "Towards Freedom Project" was parceled. To assist him to shoulder his onerous load in this regard, the ICHR has employed over the years one "regular" staff member plus eight staff members "on consolidated salary". Result ? "Volume not submitted."

    But, to be fair, this pattern is not confined to this eminent historian alone. It has been the pattern for the entire institution manned and controlled by these "eminent historians."

    Mr V N Gadgil, the Congress member, asked a written question in the Rajya Sabha about the projects which had been undertaken by the ICHR, and what had happened to them. In its reply ( to Unstarred Question number 3476 ) the Ministry of Human Resources Development stated, "According to the information furnished by the ICHR, three major projects -- namely, the 'Towards Freedom', 'Dictionary of Inscriptions,' and the 'Economic History of India' -- started between 1976 and 1992 have been continued during the last five years. These are in different stages of completion..."

    The rat was there for everyone to see : Gadgil, after all, had not asked about "major projects," nor had he said anything about projects "started between 1976 and 1992." Therefore, after some inquiries with, as journalists say, "informed sources," I asked, "But what about the project for documenting the National Freedom Movement from 1857 to 1936? How many volumes were to be produced under it? To whom was each volume assigned? How much was paid to each scholar? How much has been spent on each volume? How many volumes have been produced under this project ?"

    The Ministry replied, "... the Indian Council of Historical Research have stated that no project was commissioned by them to document National Movement between 1857 and 1937." What a foolish evasion ! All I had to do was to draw the attention of the Ministry to successive annual reports of the ICHR which had been presented to Parliament over two decades : report after report had listed this as one of the major projects which the ICHR had initiated! Please look at the account commencing from page 26 of the Annual Report for 1972-1973, I wrote; please look at the account commencing from page 16 of the Annual Report for 1973-1974, I wrote...

    The result ? I am now informed that such a project had indeed been undertaken. Nineteen volumes were to have been produced. The volumes were assigned to different scholars -- our eminencies as usual led the rest ! Each scholar collected Rs. 12000 per volume he had been assigned. The result ? Here, in the words of the ICHR, is a list of the period to be covered by the volume, the scholar to whom it was assigned, the money the scholar collected, the result :

    1. Before 1857 : K. Rajayan : Rs 12000; Submitted but not traceable.
    2. 1857-1885 : S. R. Mehrotra : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    3. 1885-1886 : Bipin Chandra : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    4. 1896-98 : Bipan Chandra : Not assigned.
    5. 1899-1902 : B.L. Grover : Rs 12000; Submitted and published.
    6. 1902-1903 : B.L. Grover : Not assigned.
    7. 1903-1905 : B.L. Grover : Not assigned.
    8. 1905-1907 : Sumit Sarkar : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    9. 1907-1909 : Sumit Sarkar : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    10. 1910-1915 : M.N. Das : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    11. 1915-1919 : T.K. Ravindran : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    12. 1919-1920 : V. N. Duty : Rs 12000; Submitted and published.
    13. 1920-1922 : Sita Ram Singh : Rs 12000; Submitted, under production.
    14. 1922-1924 : Sreekumaran Nair : Rs 12000; Submitted and published.
    15. 1924-1926 : Amba Prasad : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    16. 1927-1929 : Bimal Prasad : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    17. 1930-1931 : Bimal Prasad : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    18. 1932-1934 : Bipan Chandra : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    19. 1934-1937 : Gopal Krishna : Rs 12000; Not submitted.

    As you read the amounts, do remember that they were paid out in the mid-1970s, when they amounted to much, much more than they do in these days of scams..

    And what about the project to document the Praja Mandal Movement, the freedom movement in the princely states ?, I inquired. The requisite details are being collected by the ICHR, the Ministry wrote.

    After a reminder, the Ministry wrote : "The ICHR had taken [sic.] such a project. No further information is readily available." "Surely, you would not like to leave the matter at that," I had to write. "Was a large sum of public money not spent on the Project ? Who had been assigned the Project ? What has resulted from the large expenditure of public money ?" The ICHR has furnished the details now. These conform to the norm, so to say : the Project was assigned to one of the key-point men of the "eminent historians" in the Council, R. C. Shukla. Staff was assigned. Materials are reported to have been collected between 1976 and 1982. A sum of Rs 435,000 was spent. The net outcome ? "No publication has come out on PMM [the Praja Mandal Movements], to the best knowledge of the Council," says the Council.

    What about the project which was undertaken to document "Peasants Movements" ?, I inquired. Fourteen volumes were to be produced, the ICHR says. Six of these were assigned among three scholars at Rs 12000 per volume. One of these has been published. Two are listed as "Not Submitted." And three as "Submitted but not traceable."

    What about the "Economic Data and Statistics Project," which was listed with such fan-fare in the Annual Reports till some years ago ?, I asked. Six volumes were to be produced under it, the ICHR says. The authors, the subjects they were to cover in the volume assigned to them, the money which was paid to them, and the outcome, in the words of the ICHR, are as follows :

    B. B. Chaudhuri : "Agriculture, Rent and Revenue"; Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    S. Bhattacharya : "Financial and Currency Policies"; Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    Surendra Gopal : "Trade (inland and foreign) in the 17th and 18th Centuries"; Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    Nilomani Mukherjee : "Trade (inland and foreign) in 19th and 20th Centuries"; Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    A. K. Bagchi : "Indian Industries (1860-1939"; Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    V. B. Singh : "Labour, Prices, and Wages (1914-45)"; Rs 12000; Submitted but not traceable.

    In a word, as against the six volumes which were to have been published, not one has been published. The money having been disbursed, the project was just given up!

    Only to be succeeded by an even more ambitious project around the same theme, the "Project on Documentation on Economic History." What about this one ?, I asked. After all, it had been listed by the ICHR itself as one of the major projects the Council had undertaken. The project was commenced in 1992, says the ICHR. Seventeen volumes were to be produced between 1992 and 1997. The total cost was to be Rs 25 lakhs. As of today, says the ICHR, no volume has been published. And a cool Rs 195,000 have already been spent.

    What about the "Medieval Sources Project" ?, I asked. After some search, the ICHR has supplied the following list of the scholars to whom the work was assigned, the subject he was to cover, the money sanctioned to each, and the result :

    1. Satish Chandra & Co. : Hindi translation of "Early Sources of Akbar's Reign"; Not completed, money not indicated.
    2. Irfan Habib : Akbarat-e-Aurangzeb : Rs 27000; Not completed.
    3. Moonis Raza : "Atlas of the Mughal Empire" : Rs 22400; Not completed.
    4. Anis Faruqi : Tashir-ul-Aqwani : Rs 9000; Not completed.
    5. Satish Chandra : Documents on Social and Economic History : Rs 23000; Not completed.
    6. P. Saran : Tarikh-i-Akbari : Rs 18500; Submitted but not traceable

    -- but on that last entry, more in a moment.

    What about the much-touted "Translation Project", I inquired. It began in April, 1972, the ICHR says, when the National Book Trust proposal for translating the volumes in the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan Series on the history and culture of India was received in the ICHR. A committee consisting of the usual eminencies -- S. Gopal, Tapan Raychaudhuri, Satish Chandra, Romila Thapar -- was constituted. This Committee resolved that the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan volumes -- which in fact are the very best and most outstanding of works produced in the last fifty years -- "are not suitable for translation into Indian languages," and that this proposal should not be pursued any further. The Committee suggested that alternative titles be selected for translation.

    And, lo and behold!, the largest number of titles which the eminent historians selected were of the eminencies themselves, and of those who advocated their line! R. S. Sharma, a Chairman of the ICHR : five titles; S. Gopal : three titles; Romila Thapar : three titles; Bipin Chandra : two titles; Irfan Habib : two titles; his father, Mohammed Habib : two titles; Satish Chandra : one title...

    What amount has been spent on this Project, I inquired, how much royalty was paid to the authors, I inquired. The ICHR has incurred an expenditure of Rs 4,189,000, the Ministry said, and added, "Authors of the books selected for translation were not paid royalties."

    Having got to know their ways by now, I persisted. Had I used the wrong word ?, I inquired. Had they got payment under some head other than "royalties"? The ICHR has now said that in fact authors were paid, "a lump sum for translation rights" : Rs 1000 per language per volume if the book was more than 200 pages, and Rs 500 per language per volume if the book was less than 200 pages. Hence, R S Sharma got a total of Rs 47000 for his books; Bipin Chandra, Rs 14000; Irfan Habib, Rs 11000; Romila Thapar, Rs 12000...

    What other projects have been undertaken ?, I inquired, and to what result ? The ICHR's list :

    1. K.K. Dutta : "Old Zamindari Records of Bihar" : Rs 12000; Submitted two volumes but not traceable.
    2. B. Ramakrishna : "Writings of Veerasalingam" : Rs 12000; Not submitted.
    3. Bipan Chandra : "Oral History Project" : Rs 75000 from ICHR, Rs 200,000 from ICSSR, and Rs 400,000 from JNU; Not completed.

    Having reached our friend, the eminence, again, I abandoned the search.

    In his question V. N. Gadgil had asked the Minister to state "whether several hundred manuscripts are either missing from the Council's custody or are totally damaged; if so, what action Government have taken in the matter." In its written reply to the Rajya Sabha the Ministry stated, "The ICHR have informed that a few manuscripts are reportedly either missing or have not been sent to the Press for certain reasons. The Council have intimated that it has initiated action to ascertain whether any manuscript has been lost or appropriated otherwise."

    Another rat : see how the case of manuscripts which were "missing" had been clubbed with that of manuscripts which "have not been sent to the Press for certain reasons." And how the case of manuscripts which have been lost had been clubbed with that of manuscripts which have been "appropriated otherwise."

    I, therefore, wrote to the Ministry inquiring, "How many manuscripts are covered by the phrase 'a few manuscripts' ?" Second, could information please be compiled separately for manuscripts which have been "lost" and those which have "not been sent to the Press for certain reasons ?" Third, "Since when has the ICHR 'initiated action to ascertain whether any manuscript been lost or appropriated otherwise'? What is the current status of this so-called action? In particular, is it a fact that the manuscript submitted by one of the most distinguished medieval Indian historians, Dr.P. Saran has been 'missing' ? Is it a fact that an inquiry has been instituted to ascertain whether this very manuscript has been purloined by a staff member and printed under his name?"

    On 24 July, 1998, I received not one but two letters from the Ministry. One stated that details in this regard were being collected. The second letter of the same day stated, "As regards missing manuscripts, the Council has stated that to the best of their knowledge no manuscript is missing." I naturally had to draw the attention of the Ministry to the fact that this was at considerable variance with what they had implied in reply to Gadgil's question.

    But much more curious was what they said about the specific manuscript to which I had drawn their attention -- namely, that of Dr. Parmatma Saran. The note accompanying one letter said, "The Council has been requested to furnish details in this regard." The note accompanying the second letter of the same day said, "As regards Dr. Parmatma Saran's manuscript entitled 'Tarikh-i-Akbari' (English translation) does not appear to have been received in the Council. However, an extensive search is on to trace it in the archives."

    I pointed out to the Ministry that this assertion was, to say the least, odd. How did it square with the fact that the Annual Report of the Council for 1976-1977 on pages 10 and 11 had listed the "English translation of Arif Qandhari's Tarikh-i-Akbari by Dr Parmatma Saran" as being among the volumes which "have already been completed and received in the Council" ? How did what was being said now -- that the manuscript "does not appear to have been received in the Council" -- square with the fact that the Annual Report of the Council for 1977-1978 had on page 9 listed "Tarikh-i-Akbari of Arif Qandhari : English translation by Dr Parmatma Saran" as having "been received in the Council" ?

    The ICHR has at last taken a giant step closer to the truth. It says, Yes, the Annual Reports confirm that the manuscript prepared by Dr. Saran was indeed received in the Council. Yes, Dr. Saran died, his son-in-law wrote to the Council in 1995. He pointed out that the Annual Reports of the Council themselves showed that the manuscript had been received by the ICHR, and added, "As we understand, this project of my father-in-law was to be later published by the ICHR. We are not aware if this has indeed been done by the ICHR although nearly 20 years have elapsed since the translation was completed, but we have been extremely disturbed to hear stories to the effect that not only has someone else published the translation as his own work, but that this has been done by a member of the staff of the ICHR..."

    The ICHR now acknowledges that an inquiry was initiated in 1995. The heads of the Publications Section, of the Grants-in-Aid Section, and of the Medieval Unit were asked what had happened to the manuscript. The Grants-in-Aid Section had confirmed that the manuscript had been received. The Publications Section said the manuscript had never been forwarded to it. That left the Section which was in a sense responsible for overseeing the project -- the Medieval Unit. The Deputy Director in charge of this unit said that the manuscript was not traceable in his unit. Not satisfied with the reply, the then Director once again urged the Deputy Director, Medieval Unit, "to do his best efforts [sic.] to trace out the manuscript."

    But the friends, all entangled in those "webs of mutual complicity," intervened. And the inquiry was killed.

    Guess who obtained a Ph. D. from Rajasthan University in 1992 by submitting "an annotated English translation of Arif Qandhari's Tarikh-i-Akbari". Guess who has published the book in his name ? The very same Deputy Director in charge of the ICHR's Medieval Unit -- Tasneem Ahmed! And guess who has written the preface to the book ? The very eminent Irfan Habib!

    And guess what has happened now that the issue has been pursued ? The appropriator had thought he had executed the perfect crime -- that he had destroyed the manuscript of Dr. Saran. But the thorough search initiated by the current Chairman of the ICHR yielded sixty two pages of the manuscript in another file -- with corrections in the late Dr. Saran's own hand ! And wonder of wonders -- that manuscript written twenty years earlier was an exact verbatim prelude to the book published by Tasneem Ahmed as his own !

    A new Committee was therefore constituted to compare the two and assess the chances that this miracle could have happened without the Deputy Director of the Council Tasneem Ahmed having stolen Dr. Saran's work!

    I look forward to the happy result.

    India Connect
    August 24, 1998