'Look West' When It Matters, Mr PM
Ancient Indian wisdom versus Science
The 103rd Science Congress, which culminated yesterday, has been conspicuously different from the one held last year, the first such Congress after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. This year, no papers were presented on the precocious talent of our ancient sages who had built aircrafts capable of interplanetary sojourns, nor were people made to stretch their imagination like the last time when the new PM sang praises of ancient surgeons and ‘cited’ a marvellous story in support where Ganesha’s head was supplanted by an elephant’s owing to the advances made in the field of surgery then -- so remarkable were those advances that they are yet to be achieved by our contemporaries.
It was expected that after a lot of hell was raised and objections expressed by the scientists last year, Mr Modi will put a leash on his fabulous flights of fancy and will resist any such attempts by others, and that he duly did. Vijanan Bharti (VIBHA), an RSS wing responsible for the popularization of the swadeshi science, was due to receive an award from Mr Modi at the Congress for setting a world record (for teaching a class of 2000 students at a time, breaking the previous Irish record) but didn’t, for the PM left the venue without giving the award, miffing the RSS and its elite science wing.
“The last minute denial of award to VIBHA in Indian Science Congress 2016 (ISC) by PM in the inaugural function, for its unique achievement of becoming the first organisation to receive Guinness Book of World Records [sic] in the field of science from India, has been a rude shock to the leaders of the organisation and scientific fraternity as a whole,” read the press statement issued by VIBHA soon after.
Many scientists and scholars had trained their guns on the government under whose auspicious aegis the paper on ‘Vaimanik Shastra’ was presented last year at the same event, a theory which had earlier been proved bogus and exposed as crafted not in a hard to grasp ancient utopia but in the very last century by a mystic named S Shastry. The theory which had long been debunked, bundled back, and thrown to bin was attempted to be resurrected last year only to be laughed off and buried for good.
It could not have been emphasised more by people and Mr Modi could not have missed too many hints for too long which indicate that modern India doesn’t have any patience for fiction in science in their everyday life. The time, as has been understood by everyone else, is to make forward strides and not hanker after a vague past replete with cock and bull stories. Our PM did try to capture people’s aspirations when he coined, as is his wont, a buzzword called ‘Make in India’ but failed himself in recognising its very base, the crux of all industries, which is science, as we know it.
If one were to point a finger to guess when exactly History shifted gears and changed to the fast lane, it would be the century when the British along with other European countries sent their armada of ships to conquer the rest of the world. The 19th century and 50 or so years preceding it are known as the most unprecedented in the field of scientific discoveries made by any country, which suddenly turned the warring tribes of Europe in to imperial masters. Science is an expensive affair and it needs patronage. The reason why science was on a roll then was because the kings in Europe had realised that it could make them win wars and conquer new lands. Adopting the Latin injunction of ‘ignoramus’ i.e. ‘we don’t know’ was the game-changer for the curious minds who had stopped relying on Bible to provide them with all the answers. Popularising the alternative science clad in nationalism is the last thing we need at the time and it certainly doesn’t do justice to the hard-working scientists who are forced to yield results on a shoe string budget.
Budget shortcoming for R & D in science notwithstanding (this year’s was a bit more than last one, after having adjusted for inflation, still far from enough), our PM so far hasn’t shown neither sincerity in his claims for technical development nor solidarity for the real scientists, who have been seen playing second fiddle to the whims of pseudo-scientists in the earlier Science Congress, few of them even returning their awards to the government in defiance against latter’s obsessive medievalism. The current snub to RSS by Mr Modi can be explained as either a minor quibble within the family (which doesn’t promise much in way of thrust for new agenda) or a breaking away from the drollery of the RSS which has little regard for rigour and replicability where it matters most (a welcome move). Either way this falls within the ‘what-next’ realm of political pundits’ know-how. One can just hope that Mr Modi and his Finance Minister will keep in mind while crafting budget policy for science and technology this year what Nobel laureate David Gross said at the recently concluded science congress, that it’s not enough to ‘Make in India’ and government must have the prowess to “discover and Invent” in India first, which of course can’t be achieved as long as we keep sucking on ancient India’s tit and refuse to grow.
(This is an opinion piece that appears in Young Citizen).