The 80th session of the Indian History Congress became part of the long and passionate battles being fought in the field of Indian historiography with two streams of thought facing each other in an epic intellectual confrontation. This time, it took the form of a direct skirmish between votaries of two antagonistic views of history even at the inaugural session of the Indian History Congress, which had so far remained aloof from the raging internal ideological squabbles.
What is at the core of these differences was highlighted in the open stage confrontation between the Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and eminent historian Dr Irfan Habib: When Arif Mohammad Khan quoted Mualana Abul Kalam Azad out of context in his speech, Irfan Habib took objection and, rising from his seat, asked the Governor to quote Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse instead of the erudite nationalist who fought the ideologues of the two-nation theory at the time India’s partition.
It was a quirk of history that these two brilliant members from the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh should face each other at the Communist bastion of Kannur in Kerala over an issue that has divided both these individuals as well as the country for long. Arif Mohammad Khan had his political career cut out as a reformist in the Muslim community at Aligarh Muslim University where he was president of the students union in early seventies, when Irfan Habib served as faculty as one of the most prominent members of the history department. Arif then went on to become a prominent member of the Congress party, holding a position in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, which he left in 1986 in protest against the legislation overruling the Supreme Court order in the Shah Bano case which upheld the Muslim woman’s right to maintenance after divorce. His battles with the conservative sections in the community eventually took him to the Bharatiya Janata Party in course of time.