André Devambez, 1867–1944, aquatint on vellum / Image Courtesy: The Met Museum.
In May 2017, Braj Bihari Kumar was appointed the Chairperson of the ICSSR, the premier government institution for social sciences research. Does Kumar have the academic and research credentials for this job? Or has the government, predictably, bypassed democratic procedures by appointing Kumar? The ICSSR collegium, which is in charge of appointing a new Chairperson, was allegedly kept in the dark over Kumar’s appointment.
It is disappointing that the only person the government could choose for this significant position is a teacher of organic chemistry. Besides the fact that his discipline does not fall under social sciences, Braj Bihari Kumar de-legitimises the research work carried out by social scientists. He commented on Nobel Laureate Aamrtya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian, stating that it is “politics, rather than economics”. Kumar is also of the opinion that “A large number of our intellectuals – the scholars in the field of social sciences and humanities – themselves are deficient in the knowledge about their country and society; they have developed vested interests in being collaborators and agents.”
Braj Bihari Kumar has written controversial books on various topics that have to do with the social sciences. He has said that Naga tribal identity was built up by colonial administrators and Christian missionaries. On the demarcation of states, he is of the opinionthat small, economically unviable states are a bad idea. In one of his books, he even blames Muslim rulers for the caste system in India.
The new Chairperson of ICSSR, who makes all these absurd comments, is actually quite unknown to the social sciences fraternity. It is also not clear what contribution Dialogue and Chintan Srijan – journals edited by Braj Bihari Kumar – have made to social sciences. Former professor of JNU Ghanshyam Shah says “I don’t know about Kumar or his views on the status of social sciences. Nor have I come across his journal. There are hundreds of journals in the social sciences. I would also not say that because I am not familiar with him, he is not qualified for the position.”
The 2015 October-December edition of Dialogue reads, “Narendra Modi has proved himself to be the best Prime Minister. The economy of the country was in bad shape, when he came to power; in the brief period, we have overtaken China in GDP growth…” Last month’s report on GDP shows that India has officially lost the tag of the fastest growing economy to China as the March quarter registered a growth rate of 6.1 per cent much below than expected 7.1 per cent. The GDP growth was 8 per cent in 2015-16 and 7.5 per cent in the previous year.
It is evident that the only qualification Kumar has for this post is his loyalty to the ruling government and its ideology. Hardly a fortnight after he took office, he made a controversial statement: that teaching school children about Hindu-Muslim riots will make them social activists. The implication is that “social activists” are undesirable. Even worse is the implication for education, that students need not – or should not – learn about the reality of India.
More recently, JNU professor Amita Singh, who had kicked up a storm last year with her remarks that all Dalits and Muslims are "anti-nationals", is among the thirteen people chosen by the HRD Ministry as member of the ICSSR. The cases of Kumar and Singh indicate what has happened to autonomy, democracy and diversity of opinion in ICSSR, a premier body no longer allowed to be premier.
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