We were at our home in Goa when I received a call, I think it was the 30th of December 2021, informing me that my name was being considered for the Chairman, ICHR and that, if I was fine with it, the notification would follow soon. We discussed the issue as a family at length and I conveyed my acceptance a couple of days later. To state that this development had come as a surprise would be an understatement.
Both my wife and I have spent a lifetime in the university system and are with God’s grace comfortably placed. A close knit family and loving children, infact we were committed to a relaxed and semi-retired life. The home in Goa was a step in this direction. My recent publications on Kashmir (2019) and Partition (2021) were well received and I had already started work on a study that had been in my mind for some time. These were some of the thoughts when I accepted this assignment. The ICHR as anyone familiar with the history world in India is a ‘tricky’ place to be in. What made me take the call however was my experience as a member of the ICHR council in the preceding about three years. I was impressed by the earnestness and commitment of some of the staff and also some colleagues in the Council. My predecessor Prof. Arvind P. Jamkhedkar had demitted office in March, 2021. A distinguished historian and reputed archaeologist and more importantly an exceptionally fine human being. I had learned much from him.
He now spends much of his time in Pune as Chancellor of the Deccan College. When the word got out, he was among the first to call me. We had a long talk and he said I had taken the correct decision. He encouraged me, noting that the ICHR would do well with my association with it. Coming from him, it helped build my confidence, enthusiasm and perhaps a resolve to earnestly contribute to the working of the ICHR.
I joined office of the Chairman ICHR on 11 January 2022. A natural response perhaps my mind raced back to the year 1977. Kurukshetra University’s results for MA History and the year’s UPSC final results had followed each other. I had stood first class first in M.A. and was awarded a second Gold Medal for the highest score in the University’s Social Science Faculty. I had also cleared the IPS examination. In those days the University’s department of history was one of the leading ones of the country and there was a kind of general consensus in the university that if a vacancy were to arise the concerned department could or should encourage its own toppers to join, other requirements being equal. With two hugely different career options, the choice was a difficult one. I took to the ‘road of history’. Friends, family and acquaintances were surprised by the decision. Born in a rural land owning family a career in the police should have been a clear choice. But it was my wife to be Reicha, we had married a few months later who was certain that I would be happier in teaching. Decades have passed and she has proved dead right. The experiences of a lifetime have also shown that the discipline of history all its contentions and controversies notwithstanding is a nice ‘world’ to be in.
This is how at the age of 21 years and six months I took to the teaching of history in August 1977. The ICHR had come into being only a few years earlier (1972). I recollect memories of being overawed by the very mention of the ICHR. Some of the then well-known names in history were also members of the ICHR council. It was perhaps by sheer coincidence that when I joined the ICHR as Chairman on January 11, 2022, the staff of the ICHR was in the midst of planning its Golden Jubilee Celebration. The ICHR completed 50 years of an eventful journey on March 27, 2022. This completion of 50 years also coincided with 75 year of India’s Independence. The nation was celebrating the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
In the very first meeting with senior staff followed by informal and formal exchanges of views with Council members we decided to organise a national exhibition dedicated to the Freedom Struggle and covering a period of about 200 years from 1757-1947. We also decided that the exhibition should ideally be inaugurated with the Golden Jubilee Valedictory that was planned for 27-28 March, 2022. Work on the exhibition started only in the third week of January. The team assigned the task put in exceptional hard work and commitment.
Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, the Hon’ble Vice President of India was the Chief Guest at the Golden Jubilee Valedictory on 28th March 2022. Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, the Hon’ble Union Minister of Education and Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was the Guest of Honour on the occasion. Some ICHR publications reflecting on the work done over the past about 50 years were also released by the Hon’ble Vice President and the Hon’ble Education Minister. The exhibition inaugurated on the occasion has come to be highly acclaimed. It was visited by several Hon’ble Union Ministers, Hon’ble Members of Parliament. After its display at the Dr. Ambedkar International Centre, Janpath, New Delhi, it was inaugurated in the Parliament Library Building (PLB) by Shri Om Birla, the Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha. At the invitation of the Rashtrapati Bhawan Museum authority, the exhibition was displayed in a collaboration effort to mark the International Museum Day (18th May) and the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ at the Rashtrapati Bhawan Museum from 18th May 2022 for a period of 15 days.
We had also organised a series of lectures to mark the Golden Jubilee Valedictory. Several past and present Council members and staff had joined the programme on 27th and 28th Mach 2022 at the Dr. Ambedkar International Centre, New Delhi. It was heartening to see every member of the ICHR staff contributing to the success of the event. On March 27, 2022, Dr. Ashok Modak, Chancellor, Guru Ghasidas Central University, Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) delivered a lecture on ‘Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Mahatma Gandhi’. It was presided over by Prof. Y. Sudershan Rao, former Chairman of the ICHR. The next day (28th) a symposium dedicated to the Indian Knowledge System was organised. The speakers were Prof. Kapil Kapoor, Former Professor of English, JNU and Concurrent Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, JNU & Former Chairman, IIAS, Shimla. He discussed ‘Two Knowledge Cultures – Vedic and Abrahamic’. Mrs. Meeta Rajivlochan, IAS and Prof. M. Rajivlochan, Punjab University, Chandigarh, delivered a lecture on ‘Creating Knowledge System for the Future: Learning from the Past’. Prof. Mandyam D. Srinivas, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, spoke on ‘Indian Knowledge Systems: Their Past, Present and Future’. In the second session of the day a special lecture on ‘Development of Temple Architecture in Tamil Nadu’ was delivered by Dr. Chithra Madhavan (Chennai). The session was presided by Prof. Arvind P. Jamkhedkar, former Chairman, ICHR.
I must also briefly draw attention to some important plans and initiatives for the coming months. It has been decided to digitalise office working and to the extent possible make the ICHR a paperless office. The idea is to optimise efficiency and make it easy for scholars and fellows to access information and seek resolution of issues with regards to their fellowship and projects. We have already started work in this direction.
As part of the initiative to improve quality of research and publication that result from ICHR funding and grants two decisions are in the process. Modalities are being worked out to introduce thrust areas for research and projects that are funded by the ICHR. In the same context all scholars and fellows who avail ICHR funding will be required to submit their reports and manuscripts in a format that is complete in all respects so as to be uploaded on the ICHR website. I will be taking these proposals to the Council in due course for consideration and finalization.
Over the past few months in addition to its routine and scheduled work the ICHR has been working on several programmes associated with the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. A series of lectures and seminars till date have been organised across the country. The ICHR has also prepared a list of unsung heroes in the fight for freedom and is in the process of publishing a series of monographs on such unsung heroes on whom very little is known.
The ICHR’s three Regional Centres at Guwahati, Bengaluru and Pune have organised several events as part of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. I must mention that in 2011, the ICHR was allotted land in the campus of Gauhati University, Guwahati. For some reasons and delays at both the ends at the ICHR and Gauhati University, the construction work has still not started. We are trying to resolve the issues that have unexpectedly emerged hope to start construction at an early date.
For some time I too like others have felt that the ICHR fellowship amount particularly the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) is much on the lower side when compared with other national bodies like the UGC. I had the chance to put forth the ICHRs point of view in a meeting on the Consideration of Demands of Grants (2022-2023), Department of Education in the Parliamentary Standing Committee. I am hopeful that we should be able to resolve this issue to the benefit of the young scholars who look forward to the ICHR for financial support in the early stages of their career. In the past 50 years, the ICHR has awarded 7105 fellowships funded, 2600 publication subsidies. Likewise 4673 Foreign Travel & Special Travel Grants were funded. The ICHR has also given financial support to about 2903 seminars, conferences and other academic activity. About 1385 research projects were funded along with 395 publications of its own I would like to emphasise in this first note of mine as Chairman that the ICHR stands committed to the objectives stated in its Memorandum of Association (MoA) drafted almost 50 years ago. I am confident that with the support of the Council and the ICHR staff and most importantly of the Ministry of Education, the ICHR will maintain the high academic standards expected of an organization such as this. My best wishes to all the staff at the ICHR, fellows present and past and others associated with the ICHR.