This is a controversy that the Modi government could have done without. The appointment of Y Sudershan Rao as the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has caused a flutter in the dovecotes of history academia with many eminent historians questioning his credentials for the job. He has not helped matters any with his seeming endorsement of the caste system, which he in a blog some years ago says was working well in ancient times. He also attributes some of the problems of society to the aberrations that arose during Muslim rule. But the pertinent point is that his work is not familiar to most historians and has, it is alleged, never been subjected to peer review. He has also made remarks to the effect that Marxist historians held sway until now.
Rewriting history has created several problems in recent times, and both the proponents of Hindutva and the Marxists cannot escape blame for this. History is meant to be arrived at on the basis of fact, which is then subjected to various interpretations. But at each stage, it is important that the findings get the approval of peers in the respective fields. By appointing Mr Rao, the NDA has opened itself up to criticism that it is trying to saffronise history. The same goes for crude attempts to rewrite textbooks by some fringe elements. Education is not a propaganda tool and such attempts can only harm our future generations. The government should leave academics to experts and not try to put its ‘own’ people in posts for which they are not suited. This goes against the very grain of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s philosophy of deciding on positions solely on the basis of merit.
Not just this institution, but in the case of all prestigious ones, the government must be careful not to compromise on the quality of leadership. To say that previous governments saw these positions as jobs for loyalists is not good enough. Professionals and those with a certain stature in particular disciplines should be chosen without fear or favour. This is the only way to restore the credibility of many institutions, especially those dealing with culture and history. This will show that the government values merit and achievement over loyalty.