The communalisation of archaeology in India is hardly surprising. A communal interpretation of history is central to the agenda of the Hindutva forces and since a basis for such an interpretation has to be provided by manufacturing suitable archaeological evidence, archaeology becomes an early victim of the invasion of communal ideology. An account of this invasion is to be found in the paper by Suraj Bhan in the current number of Social Scientist, which contains the text of his Presidential Address to the Second ASHA Conference held at Aligarh in June 1996.
The various moments of this invasion were: the identification of the Painted Grey Ware culture, and the ancient sites yielding it, with the Mahabharata story; the attempt to portray the Harappan civilisation as Vedic; the attempt, for this purpose, to shift the epicentre of that civilisation from the Indus Valley to the Rig Vfedic Saraswati; the so-called discovery of the lost track of the Saraswati river to make this theory credible; and of course the 'revelations' about the alignment of the brick pillar bases, associated with Hindu temples, with the black stone pillars of the Babri Masjid, which was supposed to prove that the mosque was built by destroying an earlier existing Hindu temple.
The communalisation of archaeology is simultaneously a destruction of its scientific basis. It is doubly tragic, not only because of the fillip it gives to communal forces in the society and the polity, but also because it represents a setback for professional scientific research and hence a retrogression in the practice of the discipline. The creative effort in archaeology witnessed in the early years erf Independence, which had prompted Mortimer Wheeler's remark that "no part of the world is better served in archaeological matters than is the Republic of India", got dissipated through the project of finding archaeological support for the epic tradition, leading to its depreciation as an academic discipline.
The extent of this depreciation is underscored in the paper by Irfan Habib, which meticulously surveys the intellectual acrobatics resorted to by archaeologists sympathetic to the Hindutva project, to associate Painted Grey Ware pottery with the Mahabharata story and to push back its date. This pushing back is done in complete disregard of the results of 14C dating, to suit preconceived theories about the 'epic period' whose objective again is to promote an Aryan appropriation of the Indus Valley culture.