People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 19, 2014



Indian History Congress

Meets For Its 74th Session


From a Correspondent


THE Indian History Congress, the premier organisation of Indian historians, held its 74th annual session at the Ravenshaw University at Cuttack in Odisha, on December 28-30, 2013. Over, 1,400 delegates from all over India attended the session.


The chief minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the session on December 28 at the newly built Convention Hall of the Ravenshaw University. Professor Indu Banga, the general president of the session, after taking chair, read her presidential address, which was devoted to the problems that a historian faces in maintaining objectivity and interpreting evidence as he or she investigates diverse fields. She cited her own experiences to underline these issues. The education minister of Odisha, Gagan K Dhal, also addressed the session.


The session was then divided into six sections, where the papers by the delegates were presented. The secretary, Professor S Zaheer Husain Jafri, reported that over 650 papers were presented in these sections. Each section had a president, who read out printed addresses. Professor K N Ganesh (Calicut), presiding over Section I (Ancient India) discussed the nature of transition in Tamil society in early ancient times. Professor Pius Malekandathil (JNU), president, Section II (Medieval India) devoted his address to the influence of the development in Indian Ocean navigation on aspects of medieval Indian polity and society. Professor Rajsekhar Basu (Kolkata), president, Section III (Modern India), discussed the problems encountered in reconstruction of Dalit history. Professor Utsa Patnaik (JNU), in her presidential address in Section IV (Countries other than India), discussed the dependence of Britain on the surplus it secured from India for meeting her trade deficits during 1900-1935: she argued that Britain’s increasing failure to extract the full surplus in later years intensified the crisis in British economy during the 1930s. Professor Kuldeep K Bhan (Pune), presiding over Section V (Archaeology) dealt with aspects of technology and craft production in the Indus Civilization, mainly on the basis of finds from Gujarat sites. Professor Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia), president, Section VI (Contemporary India), saw amidst the obvious differences between the ideas of Marx and Gandhi, a commitment in both to the ideal of ‘an unalienated life’, which is opposed to the supposed necessity of the regime of private capital.


There were two public lectures on the first day in the evening. Professor J S Grewal delivered the S C Misra Memorial Lecture on the historical background of Guru Nanak’s thought. This was followed by Professor Romila Thapar’s lecture on Historiographic Traditions in Ancient India. Both lectures drew large and appreciative audiences. On the next day (December 29) a symposium on Forms of Labour in Indian History was held: Professor Y. Subbarayalu spoke on forms of labour in the Tamil village community in Chola times; and Professor Irfan Habib on forms of labour in medieval India. Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, in his written contribution, read in absentia, proposed that the Marxist concept of the industrial working-class needs to be replaced by that of the working poor in the context of modern India.


The themes of papers presented (conveniently listed in a printed booklet) indicate broadly where the present concerns of Indian historians mainly are. There is an unfortunate shift away from the history of the national movement, and working-class and peasant struggles, though the rising interest in gender, dalit and regional history is a welcome development. Among other papers of interest was one by Professor Shireen Moosvi, who examined, from the evidence of local documents, the depth of Mughal administrative control over villages, thus making a notable contribution to the debate on the nature of the pre-colonial states. It is heartening to note that there were hardly any papers of a chauvinistic or communal orientation. Apart from Professor Utsa Patnaik’s own address, there was a paper by Professor Irfan Habib, in the same section which too touched on a Marxist historical debate; he presented a critique of Robert Brenner’s well-known arguments about the rise of capitalism in England.


A team of German scholars, including the distinguished indologist Professor Hermann Kulke were guests of the Congress. The German scholars are engaged in a project on North-South economic relations on which they presented three papers in Section IV.


A special, very successful section was organised under the aegis of the local secretary, Professor Chandi Prasad Nanda on the history of Odisha.


The Aligarh Historians Society organised a two-day (December 29-30) panel on Merchants and Trade in Indian History. All the 22 papers presented were pre-circulated, facilitating meaningful discussions. In the opening paper, Professor Prabhat Patnaik argued that the commodity production which generates differentiation leading to capitalism must take the form of production for a distant market, involving impersonal exchanges and ‘alienation’ of which Marx had spoken; otherwise it cannot generate differentiation. Thus the world market was an inescapable pre-requisite for the rise of capitalism. Other papers covered areas from the conditions of commerce in the Indus Civilization (Professor D N Tripathi) to the origins of the Indian bourgeoisie in the opium trade (Professor Amar Farooqi) and the role of merchant capital under neo-liberal capitalism (Vamsi Vakulabharanam).


As in previous years, the thick volume of papers presented at the previous year’s session (73rd) was made available to all delegates. Such regularity in publishing the proceedings is a very creditable feature of the Indian History Congress.


On December 30, the delegates met in the general body meeting which passed three resolutions. One of these requested the government of Odisha to establish an Odisha Council of Historical Research especially to promote the study of the region’s history; the second demanded that the government of India cease running institutions like the Archaeological Survey and National Archives through bureaucrats without any qualification to head such organisations; and the third condemned the Archaeological Survey’s notorious exploit in digging up the earth at Dudiakhera (Unnao district) in search of gold at the bidding of a local seer. (The texts of the resolutions are being published separately).


It was announced that Professor B D Chattopadhya has been elected by the executive committee, president for the next (75th) session. It was also announced that all the 20 members of the executive committee had been elected unopposed.


All delegates were most gratified at the arrangements made for their stay, transport and meals, by the Ravenshaw University (which is headed by an academician, Professor Baishnab Charan Tripathy as vice-chancellor) and the state government of Odisha, which gave full support, both financial and organisational, to the host university. Much was also owed to Professor Chandi Prasad Nanda (local secretary) and Dr Laxmi Kant Mishra (local treasurer), who put in so much effort to make the session a success.




Recommendation for establishing Odisha Council of Historical

Research by the state government of Odisha

THE Indian History Congress, meeting for its 74th session at the Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, is greatly impressed by the solicitude shown by the state government of Odisha for the promotion of history and archaeology in a state so rich in monuments and records of the past, in its contributions to the national movement, and in its resolute measures for economic and social development since independence. In order to further the cause of History and Archaeology in Odisha, this Congress recommends for the consideration of the government of Odisha, the establishment, under its aegis, of the Odisha Council of Historical Research. Such a Council may be modelled with suitable modifications, after the Indian Council of Historical Research (under the government of India) and the Kerala Council of Historical Research (under the state government of Kerala). It may be assigned funds to undertake research projects, publication programmes, awards of fellowships, etc., both within and outside the University system, mainly for furthering the knowledge of the history of the people of Odisha and their cultural traditions, concerning all aspects. This Congress will be gratified if this proposal receives favourable consideration from the government of Odisha.


Interference with Professional Administration of Institutions, affecting Historical and Archaeological research under the Government of India

THIS Congress has always recommended, in strong terms, that qualified professional and academic persons should head such institutions of the government of India, as the Archaeological Survey of India, the National Archives, the Indira Gandhi National Council of the Arts and the National Museum. It has, however, been noticed that the government of India consistently fails to take steps to fill the positions of their heads, when these fall vacant and assigns civil service officers, without their possessing  any of the necessary qualifications for such positions, to head such institutions. All the four institutions above mentioned are now in this unenviable position without any convincing reason. It is likely that the Dudiakhera fiasco, which should put official Indian archaeology to shame, would not have happened, if the ASI had a competent director general to give proper advice to the powers concerned. In the past, the Indian Council of Historical Research has also suffered from lack of direction when non-academics have been put at its head for various periods. This Congress, therefore, calls upon the government of India to rectify the lapse and return the institutions concerned to the stewardship of professionally qualified persons through proper process of selection as expeditiously as possible.


 ‘Archaeological’ Excavations at Dudiakhera, Unnao Dist, UP

THE Indian History Congress meeting for its 74th session at Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, expresses its great sense of indignation at the abuse of archaeology, perpetrated by the Archaeological Survey of India, by its excavation at Dudiakhera (Unnao dist, UP), in search of gold whose presence was reportedly suspected on no better piece of evidence than the dreams of a local seer. The long continuation of digging by the ASI at this place, under eyes of the media, Indian and foreign, put this whole country to shame and ridicule throughout the world and has brought considerable dishonour to the Archaeological Survey of India. This Congress urges that an enquiry should be undertaken to identify the persons responsible for making ASI complicit in such an enterprise, and to determine the amount of taxpayers’ money lost in it. Incidentally, the irregularity of the excavation is shown by the fact that no proposal for it was brought before the Standing Committee of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology, an essential prerequisite for any excavation.