He was the son of Sir Sitaram, a leading businessman from the former United Provinces.
He was professor (retired) at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi of which he was also the chairperson for a few years.
He was the vice chairman and chairman of the University Grants Commission of India and secretary and general president of the Indian History Congress.
As a member of the Indian History Congress, he supports Marxist historiography of India in the medieval and early modern periods. In 2004 his textbook was reintroduced in the national curriculum after a hiatus of six years when the books had been removed for political reasons.