Strange Lapses of our Eminent Historians

This article by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj, appeared in Swarajya magazine on 17/09/2015  However, the article published in Swarajya missed out all the page numbers.  Consequently, we have posted the article here on our website with the full page numbers and references.

The questioning of the works of academic historians is often seen to be presumptuous, particularly when the questions come from those who don’t hold academically recognized degrees in history, and a characterisation that includes the authors of the present article. Nonetheless, it is essential to examine the same particularly since the repercussions would be enormous if the question turns out to be valid. Meticulous research conducted in the last two decades by scholars in different disciplines, eg, Arun Shourie, Koenraad Elst and Sitaram Goel (the last has actually been formally trained in history though not at the doctoral level) have in fact gone beyond validating the embedded concern. It has not in the least bit helped that legitimate flaws pointed to by the above in the works of academic position holding historians have been ignored by the academics in question – a non-academic trait. We revisit the issue given that many such academics have recently questioned the credibility of the recent appointees to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). The questions raised can primarily be attributed to humanities academics of leftist persuasion. Therefore, we examine the expertise of an eminent member of the above group, Prof. S. Irfan Habib, as demonstrated in his research on Indian revolutionaries in general and Bhagat Singh in particular.

Prof. Habib incidentally is officially a historian of science and political history, and holds the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad chair at Delhi’s National University of Educational Planning and Administration [1]. He has authored a book on Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries [2]. It is natural to presume him to be an authority on the subject matter of his research, and one who would provide an unbiased and comprehensive analysis of the same, which also necessarily involves examining all irrefutable evidences even when or especially when they appear to contradict the thesis he posits. To our surprise however we found that Prof. Habib had ignored important information available in public domain in one of his research papers on Indian revolutionaries [3], as also his book on Bhagat Singh [2]. He sought to establish in [2], [3] that during the freedom struggle Mohandas Gandhi was antagonistic to the Indian revolutionaries, while his close associate who would subsequently become India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had not only been favorably disposed towards them but had also assisted them in different capacities. Quoting him, “Mahatma Gandhi was, of course, most uncompromising in his stance against violent methods….Yet there were other leaders of national stature in the Congress who certainly had a soft corner for the young revolutionaries. Prominent among them were Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.’’ p. 87, [2]. Focusing on Bhagat Singh we found from easily accessible primary sources, that Nehru was at best favorably disposed to the revolutionaries in his public statements or written pieces (meant for his public image), while his action or rather lack thereof at critical times displayed his indifference at best and animosity at worst. We next produce incontrovertible evidences that establish the above contention, drawing in part from our prior work [4].

Section A: How Gandhi-Irwin pact sealed the fate of Bhagat Singh by excluding him from its ambit

Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru assassinated police officer Saunders in December 1928 subsequent to Saunders’ supervision and possible instigation of the assault that eventually killed Lala Lajpat Rai. Then, in April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt dropped a bomb at the assembly in Lahore. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were subsequently arrested and tried and sentenced to death by hanging in 1931. During his negotiations with Viceroy Irwin prior to Gandhi-Irwin pact, Gandhi made almost no effort to have their sentences commuted despite fervent appeals from all over India. Irwin has reported as follows about an interview with Gandhi:In conclusion and not connected with the above, he[Gandhi] mentioned the case of Bhagat Singh. He did not plead for commutation, although he would, being opposed to all taking of life, take that course himself. He also thought it would have an influence for peace. But he did ask for postponement in present circumstances. I contented myself with saying that, whatever might be the decision as to exact dates, I could not think there was any case for commutation which might not be made with equal force in the case of any other violent crime. The Viceroy’s powers of commutation were designed for use on well-known grounds of clemency, and I could not feel that they ought to be invoked on grounds that were admittedly political” pp.151, [5] [4].

Gandhi deliberately placed Bhagat Singh and his colleagues outside the agreement with Irwin. Gandhi has reported as follows about an interview on 18/02/1931 with Irwin: These two titbits are not worth narrating anywhere. Now the third one. I talked about Bhagat Singh. I told him : “This has no connection with our discussion, and it may even be inappropriate on my part to mention it. But if you want to make the present atmosphere more favourable, you should suspend Bhagat Singh’s execution.” The Viceroy liked this very much. He said : “I am very grateful to you that you have put this thing before me in this manner. Commutation of sentence is a difficult thing, but suspension is certainly worth considering.” I said about Bhagat Singh: “He is undoubtedly a brave man but I would certainly say that he is not in his right mind. However, this is the evil of capital punishment, that it gives no opportunity to such a man to reform himself. I am putting this matter before you as a humanitarian issue and desire suspension of sentence in order that there may not be unnecessary turmoil in the country. I myself would release him, but I cannot expect any Government to do so. I would not take it ill even if you do not give any reply on this issue.” pp.152, [5] [4].

In Delhi, great pressure was brought to bear upon the Mahatma to save the lives of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues. On 14/02/1931, Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya made a fervent appeal to the Viceroy that Bhagat Singh’s death sentence be commuted to life sentence, saying p. 20, [7] “I do so not only because I am opposed on grounds of humanity, but also because the execution of these young men whose action was prompted not by personal or selfish considerations, but by patriotic impulses…’’ Subhas Bose, who was in jail when the pact was inked, met Gandhi shortly after his release (but before the execution of the trio) to discuss the pact. He has written in p. 204, [6], “On this occasion, I ventured the suggestion that he should, if necessary, break with the Viceroy on the question because the execution was against the spirit, if not the letter of the Delhi Pact. I was reminded of a similar incident during the armistice between the Sinn Fein Party and the British government, when the strong attitude adopted by the former had secured the release of a political prisoner sentenced to the gallows. But the Mahatma, who did not want to identify himself with the revolutionary prisoners would not go so far and it naturally made a great difference when the Viceroy realised that the Mahatma would not break on the question.’‘. Others too made fervent appeals to the Mahatma to save Bhagat Singh and his colleagues. But Gandhi was unmoved. In p. 757, [17], Sitaramayya reports the reply of the Congress to the following question, “Q. Would it be fair to ask, whether the sentences on Bhagat Singh and others be commuted to transportation for life?

A. It would be better not to ask me that question. Regarding this there is sufficient material in the newspapers to allow journalists to draw their own inferences. Beyond this, I would not like to go.” [4]

After the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Rajguru, on 23/03/1931, Gandhi affirmed that: “We must realize that commutation of the sentences was not a part of the truce. We may accuse the Government of violence but we cannot accuse it of breach of the settlement.’’ p. 293, [5]. On 26/03/1931, when Gandhi was asked in a press interview, “Does the execution of Bhagat Singh and his friends alter your position in any way with regard to the [Gandhi-Irwin] settlement” He answered: My own personal position remains absolutely the same, though the provocation has been of the most intense character. I must confess that the staying of these executions was no part of the truce, and so far as I am concerned, no provocation offered outside the terms will deflect me from the path I had mapped out when I agreed to the settlement.” pp.301-302, [5] [4].

The sense of betrayal that the revolutionaries faced after Gandhi’s indifference to Bhagat Singh has been expressed by Manmathnath Gupta, an eminent member of his organization, as follows: “Gandhi was always eager to show that the life of the Viceroy was dearer to him than that of say, Jatin Das, or Bhagat Singh. This was perhaps a pose and a part of his strategy, but it hurt the revolutionaries who had been rotting in jails for years. The agents of the alien government called us terrorists. This did not hurt us, but Gandhi’s attitude amounted to almost saying, `You fellows are not political prisoners’. What annoyed us very much was that Gandhi was not consistent in his denunciations. He recognised the revolutionaries of all other countries as patriots, but he was more than step-motherly towards Indian revolutionaries, as evinced by the fact that he did not press for the release of revolutionaries at all on this occasion.” pp. 322, [8] [4].

Section B: Jawaharlal Nehru was a party to the Gandhi-Irwin pact– critical omissions by Prof. Habib

We now examine Nehru’s role in the betrayal of Bhagat Singh, with focus on if and how Prof. Habib has depicted the same. Nehru generously and repeatedly showered encomiums on Bhagat Singh, which Prof. Habib has dutifully reported [2], [3]. Immediately, after assassination in December 1928 of Saunders who officiated over police assault that killed Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “Bhagat Singh did not become popular because of his act of terrorism but because he seemed to vindicate, for the moment, the honour of Lala Lajpat Rai, and through him of the nation. He became a symbol, the act was forgotten, the symbol remained, and within a few months each town and village of the Punjab, and to a lesser extent in the rest of northern India, resounded with his name. Innumerable songs grew about him and the popularity that the man achieved was something amazing.” p. 24, [3], pp. 175-176, [11]. He also sent a message to Naujawan Bharat Sabha, a revolutionary organisation founded by Bhagat Singh, and assured its members that “many in India are full of sympathy for them and are prepared to help them as much as they can” p. 24, [3], p. 1, [10]. He further affirmed that the Sabha will “grow in strength to take a leading part in forming a national India” p. 24, [3], p. 1, [10]. After Bhagat Singh and his comrades dropped a bomb in the assembly, Nehru informed the Viceroy that “it is absurd to talk of unqualified condemnation of the youngmen who did it” p. 25, [3], [12]. He contradicted those who connected the bombs with Moscow saying that “for them everything they (rulers) do not like come from Moscow” p. 25, [3], [12].

When Bhagat Singh, Jatin Das and Batukeshwar Dutt fasted in protest against the plight of political prisoners, Nehru showered glowing praises: “no Indian can refrain from admiring their great courage and our hearts must go out to them now in their great and voluntary suffering. They are fasting not for any selfish ends but to improve the lot of all political prisoners. As days go by, we shall watch with deep anxiety this hard trial and shall earnestly hope that the two gallant brothers of ours may triumph in the ordeal” p. 25, [3], p. 9, [16]. He met the hunger strikers and wrote about them as: “I gathered from them that they would adhere to their resolve, whatever the consequences to their individual selves might be. Indeed, they did not care much for their own selves.’’ pp. 25-26, [3], p. 13, [10]. In a speech at Lahore on August 9, 1929, he said: “We should realise the great value of the struggle that these brave young men are carrying on inside the jail. They are not struggling to get honours from the people or laurels from the crowd for their sacrifice. What a contrast this is, compared with the unfortunate wrangles among Congressmen and the fighting for securing positions in the Congress and the reception committee. I am ashamed to hear of these internecine differences amongst the Congressmen. But my heart is equally delighted by witnessing the sacrifices of the young men who are determined to die for the sake of the country’’ p. 94, [2], p. 26, [3], pp. 14-15, [10], and exhorted the people to emulate them and “free the country from foreign bondage by similar sacrifices” p. 94, [2], p. 26, [3], pp. 14-15, [10].

What is however particularly galling is that Jawaharlal Nehru’s actions were in stark contrast to his stated positions, which Prof. Habib does not mention at all. Since the Gandhi-Irwin pact sealed the fate of the revolutionary trio, scholarly works seeking to assess the relations between Gandhi and Congress and the revolutionaries ought to have focused on 1) how and why the pact kept the trio out of its ambit and 2) who all in Congress had a say in the pact before it was inked, in particular, before the execution of the trio (who were executed shortly after the pact was inked by Gandhi and Irwin but before it was formally approved in the Congress general session). It is however astonishing that, except for few brief allusions to 1), Prof. Habib omits both 1) and 2) in [2] and [3]. The brief allusions to 1) were: 1) “Thus, the Gandhi-Irwin pact indirectly helped the Government to isolate the revolutionaries and to hang Bhagat Singh and his companions’’, p. 70, [2], and 2) “The Congress attitude towards the revolutionaries took a new turn after the Gandhi-Trwin Pact of March, 1931 and the subsequent executions of ‘Bhagat-Sukhdev-Rajguru’ trinity on March 23, 1931. All hopes were pinned on Gandhi but he could not save the lives of the three revolutionaries.’’ p. 31, [3]. He has documented many other aspects of Gandhi’s animosity against the revolutionaries in [2], [3]. So the real import of discussions on 1) and 2) would have been that it would reveal how much support Jawaharlal Nehru provided to the revolutionaries through his actions, as he had already graced the Congress presidency by then, and was an indispensable member of the Congress Working Committee which had an important role in the negotiations that led to this pact as well as its inking, as we would shortly show. We have addressed 1) in detail in Section A. We would now dwell on 2) and in the process incontrovertibly prove that Nehru was party to the entire negotiations that led to the Gandhi-Irwin pact, and the pact was inked only after his consent (and before the execution of the trio). This would therefore contradict Prof. Habib’s conclusion that Nehru supported the revolutionaries.

After he concluded the Gandhi-Irwin pact, which would not provide amnesty to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Gandhi said on 07/03/1931 in Delhi: “But let me tell you why Bhagat Singh and the rest have not been released. Maybe, if you had been negotiating you might have secured better terms from the Viceroy, but we the Working Committee would secure no more than what we have. I may tell you that throughout the negotiations I was not acting on my own, I was backed by the whole Working Committee. We brought all the presssure we could to bear on our negotiations and satisfied ourselves with what in justice we could have under the provisional settlement. We could not as negotiators of the provisional truce forget our pledge of truth and non-violence, forget the bounds of justice. ‘’ pp.229-230, [5]. Gandhi has therefore confirmed that the entire working committee (which included Nehru) had “satisfied themselves with what in justice they could have under the provisional settlement’’ and believed that the commutation of Bhagat Singh’s sentence was not conformant with the notions of justice under the ambit of truth and non-violence. The grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi, who shares Prof. Habib’s political persuasion, has been even more specific: “Lasting from February 17 to March 4, the Gandhi-Irwin talks were held at the Indian Viceroy’s new mansion, designed by Lutyens…..The WorCom camped in Delhi for the duration. Walking five miles to the palace and another five miles back to the residence of his host, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Gandhi gave a daily or nightly account of the talks to Jawaharlal, Patel and the others and sought the WorCom’s counsel at every important juncture.’’ . pp. 199-200, [9]. “The Mahatma, to quote Sitaramayya again, “put it to member after member of the Working Committee, individually, and asked whether he should break on prisoners, on lands, on anything, on everything..’’ p. 737, [17]. No one was prepared to counsel a break.’’ p. 201, [9]. A member of the Working Committee, JB Kriapalani has recalled the discussions in the Congress Working Committee on Gandhi-Irwin pact as follows: “Jawaharlal’s reaction was different. He took it as a surrender and opposed it. Gandhiji, therefore, said that he would not insist on acceptance of the agreement (with Irwin) if the Working committee so decided. He had so far committed only himself and not the Congress. With some difficulty Jawaharlal withdrew his objection. Afterwards he had to admit that the Pact enhanced the prestige of the Congress even among those who were against it.’’ p. 134, [18]. Note that Kripalani, Sitaramayya, Gandhi all agree that Nehru supported the pact in its entirety before it was signed, and did not counsel a break on any issue including the exclusion of Bhagat Singh and his comrades from amnesty (assuming they were considered by the working committee which itself remains unclear). Prof. Habib did not mention any information in this paragraph in [2], [3] while putting forth the thesis that Nehru had been supportive of revolutionaries in general and Bhagat Singh in particular.

Continuing our narrative, there is no evidence that Nehru objected at any stage to the Gandhi-Irwin pact on the ground that it did not provide amnesty to, or commute the death sentences, of the revolutionary trio. On the contrary, we know from Nehru’s autobiography that Bhagat Singh’s fellow revolutionary, Chandrasekhar Azad, came to meet him in his residence before the Gandhi-Irwin negotiations commenced: “He (Azad) had been induced to visit me (Nehru) because of the general expectation (owing to our release) that some negotiations between the Government and the Congress were likely. He wanted to know, if in case of a settlement, his group of people would have any peace. Would they still be considered and treated, as outlaws; hunted from one place to place, with a price on their heads, and the prospect of the gallows ever before them?…But I had no answer to his basic question: what was he to do now? Nothing was likely to happen that would bring him, or his like, and relief or peace.’’ pp. 261-262, [21]. Notwithstanding Nehru’s account, Azad met him to seek reprieves for the revolutionary trio sentenced to death. This has been confirmed by Manmathnath Gupta, an eminent revolutionary of Bhagat Singh’s organization: “Chandrasekhar Azad, the great revolutionary leader, himself went to Jawaharlal Nehru to press the release or at least the commutation of their sentences’’ p. 322, [8], as also Prof. Habib himself, in the only sentence that he devoted for this interview: “Azad later met Jawaharlal Nehru to seek the release of his fellow revolutionaries through the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, but despite prolonged discussion he failed to convince Nehru, and came back disgusted and dejected.’’ p. 39, [2]. Nonetheless, all accounts agree that even before the negotiations for Gandhi-Irwin treaty began, Nehru had informed Azad that the negotiations will not bring any relief to the likes of Azad (which would include Bhagat Singh). It is therefore logical to surmise that Nehru would not put up any genuine road block for the pact on Bhagat Singh’s or other revolutionaries’ count.

Manmathnath Gupta, has written how Jawaharlal Nehru had betrayed Bhagat Singh: “It was expected of Jawaharlal, who passed as a youth leader, that he would put pressure on Gandhi in this matter [on forcing the British to release or commute the execution sentence for Bhagat Singh while he was negotiating the Gandhi-Irwin pact]. We inside the prison expected that Jawaharlal would advise Gandhi to break with the viceroy, but he did nothing of the sort. I agree with [Subhas Chandra] Bose, who wrote [in p. 222, [10]] “The responsibility of Pandit Nehru is very great. Besides being the President of the Indian National Congress, he was the only member of the Working Commmittee who could be expected to understand and advocate the left wing point of view and his refusal would have been sufficient to prevent the final acceptance of the pact by Gandhi and the Working Committee. Unfortunately, he gave in and so the Pact was approved by the Working Committee and the next day, March 5th, the Mahatma put his signature to it. When the publication of the Pact created an uproar in the country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came out with the statement that he did not approve of some of the terms – but as an obedient soldier, he had to submit to the leader. But the country had regarded him as something more than an obedient soldier.” ‘’ p. 325, [8], [4]. Manmathanath Gupta also wrote: “ A garbled version of their (Chandrasekhar Azad’s with Jawaharlal Nehru’s) interview is present in An Autobiography (by Nehru, p. 262, [21]), I say garbled because he [Nehru] completely misrepresented the revolutionaries, charging them with fascist tendencies. When the book appeared, it was the fashion to brand one’s political opponents as fascists. To brand a set of people as fascists it is necessary to prove them hired trigger-happy agents of the big monopolists ” pp. 322-323, [8]. Indeed, Nehru has written: “I was glad to learn from Azad, and I had confirmation of this subsequently, that the belief in terrorism was dying down….Many of them, it seems to me, have definitely the fascist mentality.’’ p. 262, [21]. Thus, Bhagat Singh’s fellow revolutionary has written that Nehru considered the revolutionaries as fascists; rather than having the “soft corner’’ that Prof. Habib saw in him – Gupta can not be blamed here as one does not usually denounce without proof as fascist those who he commiserates with. Prof. Habib did not mention Manmathnath Gupta’s or Subhas Chandra Bose’s assessment of Nehru’s betrayal of Bhagat Singh in neither [2] nor [3]; he also skipped the fascist characterization altogether.

The only action, if it can be called such, that Nehru took to save Bhagat Singh from the gallows was to publish Bhagat Singh and Dutt’s statements in court in the Congress bulletin. Gandhi remonstrated with Nehru for doing so, “ I read the current Congress Bulletin. I think that the reproduction of that statement was out of place in an official publication which is designed merely to record Congress activities. Is it not like a government gazette? On merits too, I understand that it was prepared by their counsel. It is not the outpouring of earnest souls as you and I thought it was. Nor did I like your advocacy and approval of the fast they are undergoing. In my opinion, it is an irrelevant performance and in so far as it may be relevant, it is like using Nasmyth hammer to crush a fly. However, this if for you to ponder over.’’, p. 132, [13]. Nehru defended himself, but concurred with Gandhi that the publication of their defences in court was inappropriate and sought Gandhi’s pardon for it p. 157. [10], p. 157, [16]: “I am sorry that you disapproved of my giving Bhagat Singh and Dutt’s statements in the Congress bulletin. I was myself a little doubtful as to whether I should give it, but when I found that there was general appreciation of it among the Congress circles, I decided to give extracts. It was difficult to pick and choose, so gradually most of it went in. But I agree with you that it was somewhat out of place. …. Have I been advocating the fast? I had not intended doing so and I do not know what statement of mine you are referring to. In Delhi, I had stated that we could not sympathise with the fast of Bhagat Singh and Dutt during their long fast. As a matter of fact, I am not in favour of hunger strikes. I had told this to many young men who came to see me on this subject, but I did not think it worthwhile to condemn the fast publicly.’’. Thus, faced with Gandhi’s criticism, he backtracked and disowned his statements in support of the fasting revolutionaries [4]. Prof. Habib essentially reproduced only the first sentence and parts of the second sentence above p. 93, [2], p. 25, [3] – in particular, he omitted the parts that showed that Nehru believed that 1) the defense presented by the revolutionaries was out of place in a Congress bulletin 2) he initially hesitated to publish it (it was therefore included only to allay the feelings of the Congressmen), and 3) he was against the hunger strike, but stopped short of condemning it publicly. Prof. Habib positions Nehru’s apology to Gandhi as a pro-forma one and emphasizes that “Nehru accepted the widespread popularity and recognition of the revolutionaries among the Congressmen’’ p. 25, [3]. The more important conclusion that however emerges is that Nehru published the statements not out of any conviction, but compulsion due to pressure from Congress rank: “I was myself a little doubtful whether I should give it [extracts of Bhagat’s defence in court], but when I found that there was very general appreciation of it among Congress circles, I decided to give extracts.” p. 157, [10], p. 157, [16].

Nehru remained completely silent in public on the exclusion of the revolutionary trio from the ambit of the pact before their execution p. 32, [10], which Prof. Habib explains as “Jawaharlal Nehru kept quiet before the executions lest a word of his may annoy the Mahatma.’’ P. 101, [2], p. 32, [3]. If that were indeed the case, then the question that arises and was never asked in [2], [3] was why did the future prime minister weigh his fear of provoking the Mahatma’s wrath above his determination to save the revolutionary freedom fighters from the gallows. Could his fear have been motivated by a greater determination, that of furthering his political career in then Congress power structure where Gandhi had the last word? Or is it the case that the intention to save the revolutionaries never existed in the first place, contrary to his spoken words? Continuing in Prof. Habib’s words p. 32, [3], pp. 101-103, [2]: “But soon after the executions, he [Nehru] came out with a statement in defence of his silence. He said thatI have remained silent though I felt like bursting, and now all is over” [p. 500, [10]]. This may be true because in some other reference he had accepted that “I was being compelled by force of circumstances to do things I was in thorough disagreement with” [p. 156, [10]]. He further said, “Not all of us could save him who was so dear to us and whose magnificent courage and sacrifice have been an inspiration to the youth of India; India today cannot save her dearly loved children from the gallows” p. 32, [10], [14]…. He [Nehru] spoke: “He (Bhagat Singh) was a clean fighter who faced his enemy in the open field. He was a young boy full of burning zeal for the country. He was like a spark which became a flame in a short time and spread from one end of the country to the other dispelling the prevailing darkness everywhere.’’ p. 33, [3], pp 505-506, [10]. The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family clearly did not deign to elaborate on his compulsions and if and how those related to his ambition for personal political power [4]. Thus, Prof. Habib’s reporting of the above condolences and Nehru’s sorrow at not being able to act “compelled by force of circumstances’’, without asking the above questions, appear to be uncharacteristically uncritical of a probing scholar which one who specializes in political history is expected to be. To us, however, given Nehru’s inaction, when he had the opportunity to save the martyrs, his words of condolences subsequent to their execution appear farcical.

Section C: Prof. Habib’s academic response to specific pointers on primary historical sources

Our subsequent interactions on SM with Prof. Habib were even more astonishing. A tweep @parikramah had brought to our attention an article by Prof. Habib enumerating Bhagat Singh’s opinions on Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Bose. In this context, we pointed out that 1) Nehru had betrayed Bhagat Singh through his inaction 2) multiple documentations show that Gandhi-Irwin discussions and treaty happened with Nehru’s consent 3) Bhagat Singh’s death sentence was not commuted as part of Gandhi-Irwin pact with Nehru’s consent.

To 3) Prof. Habib shot back: “Who told you that? Have you ever read anything before making this statement?’’

Lest there be any confusion, we subsequently pointed out that “Bhagat Singh was placed outside ambit of Gandhi-Irwin pact. Effectively Bhagat’s death sentence.’’ We also pointed out that we had cited writings of Gandhi and Bose and Manmathanath Gupta to establish our contentions, and that Prof. Habib omitted Manmathanath Gupta’s comments on Nehru’s role in his article. Prof. Habib once again surprised us by asking “where did Manmathanath Gupta write all this?’’ and “I interviewed Manmathnath Gupta for several days, Never heard all this’’.

His specific comments on Manmathanath Gupta were with respect to our assertion 1). We therefore reproduce the statements of Manmathanath Gupta, from his celebrated memoir [8], verbatim on Nehru’s inaction on Bhagat Singh: `It was expected of Jawaharlal, who passed as a youth leader, that he would put pressure on Gandhi in this matter [on forcing the British to release or commute the execution sentence for Bhagat Singh while he was negotiating the Gandhi-Irwin pact]. We inside the prison expected that Jawaharlal would advise Gandhi to break with the viceroy, but he did nothing of the sort‘ p, 325, [8]. Under these circumstances, the conclusion most favorable for Prof. Habib, based on his tweets on Manmathanath Gupta, would be, that he, a researcher and an author of a book on Bhagat Singh, remains till date unaware of the memoir [8] that Manmathanath Gupta, a renowned member of Bhagat Singh’s organization (Hindusthan Socialist Republican Army), had written as early as 1969. Prof. Habib’s scholarly works [3] and [2] appeared in 1982 and 2007 respectively. Researchers usually do substantial homework on their subjects before interviewing them. Yet, if this conclusion were to hold, it would appear that Prof. Habib interviewed Manmathanath Gupta for several days, without knowing that Gupta had already published his memoir. But, even this favorable conclusion is somewhat tenuous as Prof. Habib has cited the the above memoir in [3] (p. 35, reference 25), but not entirely ruled out since the work [3] had another author.

Equally important, Prof. Habib remains unaware of what Gandhi wrote about the involvement of the Congress Working Committee (which included Nehru) as to his negotiations with Viceroy Irwin leading to the Gandhi-Irwin pact, and his final acceptance of the terms Irwin provided. He also seems to be unaware of multiple statements by Gandhi and Irwin on how Bhagat Singh was kept out of Gandhi-Irwin treaty based on mutual consent. Gandhi’s writings are available in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), which can be accessed online; we have provided references to the relevant parts in this article. In addition, Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, who shares Prof. Habib’s political persuasion, and a member of then Congress Working Committee, JB Kripalani have written about the involvement of Nehru in discussions that led to the Gandhi-Irwin treaty (specific citations have already been provided).

As part of established academic practice, on September 8, we shared our articles [4] [15], with Prof. Habib, where we had established the above contentions with specific references to CWMG ([5], [13]) , Manmathanath Gupta’s memoirs [8], and Indian Struggle, written by Subhas Chandra Bose [6], and have been waiting for Prof. Habib’s academic response ever since. He is yet to acknowledge receipt of the facts he was seeking.

Meanwhile, and as an aside, he has blocked one author, Shanmukh, in our team. It goes without saying that its his discretion as to who he wants in his TL. It is also important for us to put on record that the author who he has blocked had simply provided him verifiable facts without resorting to abuse or spamming or ridicule whatsoever. We also attach our co-author’s tweets for this purpose.

Section D: How scholarly is the vaunted left academic structure?

The broader contention that we have perhaps established in this piece is that among leading academic position holding historians in India there are those who are at best unaware of publicly accessible information that are crucial to their research area, and at worst guilty of distorting history, by selective quotation or suppression of historical sources, guided by ideological and political considerations. The ideological considerations pertaining to Nehru and Bhagat Singh for example may well be that the former is posited as an icon of the left, or at least parts thereof, and Nehru’s betrayal of revolutionary Bhagat Singh (of leftist persuasion) who enjoys iconic status all over India and across the political spectrum, might irretrievably undermine Nehru’s legacy. The political considerations in general involve loyalty to ruling regimes which have the capability to influence academic decorations and appointments.

RC Majumdar, the famous historian who refused to bow to the powers that be, has narrated his own experience in writing history – the gross interference from political and official figures and the propensity of professional historians to follow cues from their political masters. On p. viii, [19], he writes, “When as a whole time Director, I prepared the draft of the `History of the Freedom Movement in India’, sponsored by the Government of India, I met with constant interference and obstruction from men in authority, having no knowledge of history.” Writing further, on p. xii, he wrote, “It is very sad that the spirit of perverting history is no longer confined to politicians, but has definitely spread even among professional historians.”. The governments of his time had a certain policy towards history and compelled many professional historians to follow their policy. But as he himself points out on p. xxix, [20], “But history is no respecter of persons or communities, and must always strive to tell the truth, so far as it can be deduced from reliable evidence. This great academic principle has a bearing on actual life, for ignorance seldom proves to be real bliss either to an individual or to a nation. … The real and effective means of solving a problem is to know and understand the facts that gave rise to it and not to ignore them by hiding the head, ostrich like, into sands of fiction.”

What is worrisome is that Prof. Habib’s conduct is by no means an exception, but rather a representation of the malaise of distortion of history guided by non-academic consideration. Only a few historians, especially the professional historians in recent times (who are mostly of leftist persuasion), have chosen to follow RC Majumdar’s advise; most have instead chosen to distort history as they saw fit, accepting dictates from non-academic quarters. This reflects extremely poorly on the leftist academic community, who have had almost exclusive access, in the last fifty years, to national resources pertaining to research in history; and exposes the vacuity of their claim of developing a strong academic foundation. It is perhaps high time then that premier historical bodies like ICHR be populated with reputed scholars of unquestionable integrity outside the main stream history luminaries. Last, but not the least, the scholars with rightist persuasion would grievously err by seeking to emulate the other end of the spectrum, for example, by eulogizing specific political icons while concealing their flaws and selectively quoting history to establish their contention – they would be better advised to emulate Prof. Majumdar’s principle – for truth prevails, eventually.



[2] S. Irfan habib, To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades

[3] S. K. Mittal and Irfan habib, The Congress and the Revolutionaries in the 1920s, Social Scientist, Vol. 10, No. 6 (June 1982), pp. 20-37

[4] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, Mahatma Gandhi’s war on Indian revolutionaries

[5] Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi Interview to the Press, 26/03/1931,

[6] S. C. Bose, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942)

[7] V N Datta, “Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’’, Rupa Publishers, 2008.

[8] Manmathnath Gupta, `They Lived Dangerously’

[9] Rajmohan Gandhi Patel – A Life

[10] Report of the Congress Session, Karachi, 1931, NMML, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol 4

[11] J Nehru “An Autobiography’’, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1941

[12] The Tribune, April 17, 1929

[13] Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, “Gandhi’s letter to Jawaharlal Nehru’’, 01/07/1929,

[14] The Bombay chronicle, March 25, 1931.

[15] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, Subhas Chandra Bose’s Connections with Revolutionaries with India

[16] Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 4, A Project of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, Orient Longman

[17] Sitaramayya, Pattabhi, “The history of the Indian national Congress, Working Committee, Allahabad, 1935

[18] JB Kripalani , “Gandhi His Life and Thought”

[19] RC Majumdar, “History and Culture of the Indian People”, Vol. VII

[20] RC Majumdar, “History and Culture of the Indian People”, Vol. VI

[21] Jawaharlal Nehru, “An Autobiography’’