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Contested Terrains Of History

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

By K.N. Panikkar
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2013, pp. xvi 652, Rs. 1200.00


This book’s review has been unduly de­layed but it is fortuitous in a way as the main theme that the author dwells upon has become more relevant over the past year than in its year of publication. Since the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government came to power last year, a gradual attempt has been made to implement the Hindutva agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These moves, some of them brazen, have also led to changes in membership of autonomous social science institutions such as the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the Indian Council of Historical Re­search (ICHR). A scarcely known historian from the academic hinterland, Y. Sudershan Rao, was appointed as the chairman of the ICHR blithely disregarding protests from well regarded historians like Romila Thapar. While the terrain of history has always been keenly contested, the fear now is that unsci­entific methodology will be used in the in­terpretation of historical events to propagate a majoritarian and partisan view of our his­tory. Some of Rao’s statements presage this shift clearly. This is where the majestic historical un­derstanding of someone like K.N. Panikkar retains relevance. Panikkar was Professor of Modern History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for several years before he was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit and the Chairman of the Kerala Council for Histori­cal Research (KCHR). The work under re­view puts together 76 essays written by this historian over some three decades and which have been published in various magazines and journals. The essays have been divided into five themes: ‘History and Historiogra­phy’, ‘National Politics’, ‘Communal Poli­tics’, ‘Education’ and ‘Culture’. As the title of the book clearly shows, he sees history to be a site of struggle and his overwhelming concern is the communal turn in history writing. In one of his early essays, Panikkar argues that the ‘communal view of history’ does not represent the craft of the historian. He writes: ‘The communal inter­vention in history is therefore not an aca­demic exercise in quest of historical truth; it is a political project undertaken, understand­ably with scant regard to the norms of the discipline a la Arun Shourie, N.S. Rajaram and others.’ Panikkar feels that the commu­nalization of society can be countered only by evolving a secular and ...

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