Atul Dev in Caravan:
Last month, Gopinath Ravindran, the member secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research since (ICHR), resigned from his post without completing his term. His decision was reportedly prompted by a disagreement with Y Sudershan Rao, the chairman of the ICHR. The conflict had stemmed from Rao’s dissent over the ICHR Council’s decision to dissolve the editorial board and advisory committee of the “Indian Historical Review” (IHR) that included historian Romila Thapar. Ravindran’s resignation is the latest in a series of individual departures from organisations that function under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. On 1 July 2015, Atul Dev, a reporter at Vantage, visited Ravindran at his home in New Delhi. During the course of their conversation, Ravindran spoke to Dev about his decision to resign, the reorientation of the ICHR under Rao and the potential impact it could have on academic research in India.
Atul Dev: At what point did you decide that your presence in the ICHR as member secretary had become redundant?
Gopinath Ravindran: The immediate reason for my resignation was that I disagreed with the change in the Advisory Committee and that I was not being allowed to put this disagreement on paper. I knew, very well, that institutions such as the ICHR would be undergoing changes with the change in the central government. This was pretty clear to everybody. However, I thought that by remaining there I would at least be able to record my dissent—if the event arose and the protocols of historical research were deliberately breached—in the public domain, as the minutes of all the meetings held by the ICHR Council are put up on the website. With that episode, it became clear that they would not allow me to hold a contrary view even formally. So, I decided that there was no point in continuing anymore.
AD: Was the decision to disband the advisory committee unanimous? Were you the only person in the council meeting to voice any opposition?
GR: I was the only person in that meeting who disagreed. This is also available in the draft minutes, which the chairperson did not sign. He said that I couldn’t disagree with a decision taken by the committee. During the meeting of the council, when I asked for the reason behind taking such a decision, I was not given a satisfactory answer. Various epithets such as “elitists” and “goondas” were used with reference to the former members of the advisory committee. This was clearly unacceptable.