NEW DELHI: It is fast assuming the dimensions of a landslide with reputed scientist P.M.Bhargava not just signing a statement against the growing intolerance in India but also moving to return the Padma Bhushan award he received in 1986 for his pioneering work in the field of microbiology. Filmmakers and historians have joined in over the past 24 hours coming out in strong condemnation of what they see as ongoing efforts to divide India along religious lines.

86 year old Dr Bhargava was clear that he wanted to do more than sign a statement, and since like an artist he could not write or paint, he had decided to return the national award instead.

Dr Bhargava. founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in an interview to The Citizen from Kolkata said that when he had received the Padma Bhushan from the President of India at the time “ I was very pleased and very proud.” But today after taking the decision to return it he felt no pangs of doubt or sorrow as the reasons for this “are so important and substantive.” The ageing scientist who is internationally respected for his work said that while there were many reasons he would cite three that had compelled him to return the national honour.

“One, I strongly feel that the present government is deviating from the path of democracy and turn the country into a Hindu religious autocracy like Pakistan. This is my first fear.

Two, the BJP is the political arm of the RSS which is a Hindu fundamentalist organisation. The Prime Minister’s commitment to the RSS is well known. The government does what the RSS wants it to. I cannot tolerate any religious fundamentalist organisation as the strength of India lies in our variety and diversity.

Variety leads to evolution and homogeneity leads to extinct. There are tens and hundreds of examples of this.

The RSS controls the BJP and they want to control what we eat, dress, think. The RSS chief (Mohan) Bhagwat recently said that marriage was a contract and that the husband would keep his wife safe so long as she takes care of the house, and he can disown her if she violates it. I find this totally unacceptable.

And three, we have Article 51(A) sub section (H) in our Constitution under which every citizen is required to follow the scientific temper and the voice of reason . The government itself is the biggest violator of this.”

Dr Bhargava said that it was not any one single instance that had led to his decision but a cumulative impact of all that he had been witnessing over the past year and more. He said that he could not say what impact, if any, this would have in the long or short run as “the government seems to have dismissed it (the protest) as a kind of political vendetta which it is not.” He said he was very surprised at the government’s attitude towards the intellectuals, unlike most countries across the world who had great respect for their intellectuals and demonstrated it.

Dr Bhargava is the first Padma Bhushan awardee to have returned it in protest. He was clear that he was following the dictates of his conscience, and it was not for him to tell others what to do. Over 50 scientists had signed a statement, including Dr Bhargava, slamming the climate of intolerance.