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Nehru had said, "Who indeed could afford to ignore science today?" Modi Sarkar has proved Nehru wrong

By PVS Kumar*
During the past one-year we have witnessed an unprecedented attack on scientific temper, rational thinkingand scientific establishment of the country. The assault has been four pronged:
1. Spreading and providing credibility to myths, superstitions, irrational beliefs among the masses;
2. Occupying spaces such as science congress, workshops and conferences and use the official and unofficial platforms for anti-science activities;
3. Crippling the scientific institutes by political interference, delay in appointing heads of institutions, insulting the most respected scientists/ academicians of the country and spreading panic to demoralize scientific community of the country; and 4. Arbitrary budget cuts and reduced allocation to various science departments and projects of national importance.
Spreading myths and occupying scientific spaces
RSS in particular and Sangh Parivar in general have a history of working against scientific temper in the country. However, the attack on scientific temper intensified as soon as NDA came to power in May 2014. Though intensity of propagation of irrational, superstitious, illogical and anti-science ideas by various leaders of Sangh Parivar increased many fold as the new government assumed power, the first major onslaught was unleashed during the 102nd Science Congress.
As Dinesh C Sharma pointed out, Modi himself set the agenda even before the science congress, by declaring that "Hindu god Ganesh was actually a creation of ancient plastic surgery". Taking cue from their leader, party cheerleaders like Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank told Parliament that astrology was more powerful than modern science. Other members of the ruling establishment have claimed that Hindu sages were well versed in everything from stem cell therapy to nuclear tests.
Shameless and laughable the claims may appear to a normal citizen, however propagation of these ideas is politically motivated and constituted a well thought out agenda. 102nd Indian Science Congress was organised in January 2015, eight months after the NDA came to power at the centre. The event is called the Annual Session of the Indian Science Congress (this was the 102nd), where scientific progress and achievements during the past year are discussed on a national platform.
However, for the first time in the history of the Science Congress a special session was devoted to ancient India's scientific prowess. In one session, Captain Anand Bodas, a retired flying instructor, presented a paper claiming that the science of building and flying aeroplanes was recorded by Maharishi Bharadwaj in the Brihad Vimana Shastra, several millennia before the Wright Brothers built their aeroplane. Aeroplanes existed in India 7,000 years ago and ancient Indians travelled from not just one country to another but also to other planets, he said. The "huge" aeroplanes were 60 by 60 feet and in some cases, over 200 feet and had 40 small engines. They could fly forwards, backwards, sideways and hover in mid-air.
It is totally another matter that HS Mukunda, SM Deshpande, HR Nagendra, A Prabhu, and SR Govindaraju, scholars from the aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering departments at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, critically examined and debunked this text. They say it was actually written between 1900 and 1922. These scholars write that the planes described in the text "are the best poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real. None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make then resist rather than assist flying (“A Critical Study of the Work Vymanika Shastra", in “Scientific Opinion”, 1974).
Capt Bodas also went on to claim that ancient Indians had an advanced radar system called 'rooparkanrahasya', which presented the complete shape of the aeroplane instead of a mere blip that is seen on modern radar systems. Another paper, presented by an Ayurvedic physician, claimed that Indians had developed 20 types of sharp instruments and 101 types of blunt instruments required for surgery, all of pure iron, and many of which resemble modern surgical instruments. Obviously, there had been no scientific validation of the papers. Such claims undermine the primacy of empirical evidence on which the 102-year-old Congress was founded. Scientists who attended the event said the controversy sidelined good work presented at the event.
Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, BJP MP from Haridwar and former Uttarakhand chief minister, also claimed on the floor of Parliament, "Today we are talking about nuclear tests. Lakhs of years ago, Sage Kanad had conducted a nuclear test. Our knowledge and science do not lack anything." Noted Indian astrophysicist, Prof Jayant Narlikar says, "Saying that 'Brahmastra' mentioned in Mahabharata was a nuclear device or mention of Pushpak Viman in Ramayana was proof of aviation in ancient times is baseless. Indian scientists did know of 'atom' or 'anu' then but not beyond it. A nuclear weapon at that time is out of question. Knowledge of nuclear science requires prior knowledge of electromagnetism and there is no evidence that it existed."
The Indian government has also launched a project to try to trace and even revive a legendary river - Saraswati - mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. Although there have been several attempts to identify the Saraswati river, experts say if it existed the waterway must have dried up thousands of years ago. Meanwhile digging the course of the Saraswati has even started in Mugalwali village of Yamunanagar district in Haryana. Recently, effort is said to have bore fruit when water started gushing out from a pit at a depth of eight feet.
No one wondered how a river that is supposed to have dried up thousands of years ago could have sprung back to life after digging just eight feet? In fact, it is the groundwater recharge that the diggers seem to have struck. A textbook brought out by the Gujarat government, with a foreword by Narendra Modi, had stated that much before JL Baird envisaged the television, ancient Yogis in India had a better, more handy version of it. The text book, as reported by “Indian Express”, reads: "Indian rishis using their yog vidya would attain divya drishti. There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this."
The absence of a scientific temper in the government seems to have emboldened all and sundry to make outlandish claims. An anguished Prof Jayant Narlikar says, "We shouldn't claim things of which there is no evidence or proof as it reduces the credibility of what our scientists have achieved in the past. Even the West recognizes the knowledge of mathematics held by Indians. If we start making outlandish claims, the scientific community of world will not look up to us as it does now."
Insulting scientists and headless institutions has become a norm
Nehru had said 'Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid. The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science'. Nehru was not alone in visualizing this future. Sir CV Raman, SS Bhatnagar, MN Saha, Homi Bhabha and many others, in fact the whole galaxy of outstanding scientists, dreamt of a scientifically developed and technologically self- reliant India. The political leadership was as committed to the dream as scientists were. MC Chagla, Union Education Minister, on April 3, 1965 said that he was "very impatient and indignant with people who do not trust our own scientists and technologists, but always turn to western and other advanced countries to borrow their knowhow."
More than half a century back, the British sarkar had handed over an economically drained out, socially dilapidated and communally bleeding country to us. Meagre resources faced competing needs, difficult choices were to be made. The commitment to build a scientifically tempered India led to creation of scientific institutions all over the country. Thanks to the vision of scholars and politicians like Nehru, many of these institutions have done well during the past 60 years and have placed India in the forefront of scientific knowledge generation and technological excellence.
Though the dream of spending 2% of GDP on research and development has remained unfulfilled yet successive governments have never wavered from commitment to create new scientific institutions and support the existing ones. Even the Janata Government and previous NDA, despite its lunatic love for astrology, did not adversely temper with science and technology establishment of the country. The present Modi government in a short span of time, just one year, has almost paralysed most of the institutions.
Political intervention, keeping the scientific institutions headless and cuts and delays in allocating budget have resulted in widespread demoralisation among the scientific community of the country. Many scientists have been publically insulted in various ways. Prof SD Damodaran, a celebrated scientist, disturbed over recent developments, in an article noted, 'things seem to have gone in rather inimical ways to very many of those cherished S&T infrastructures, including the celebrated TIFR itself.'
Prof Damodaran was expressing his angst against the way Professor Sandip P Trivedi, a front-ranking theoretical physicist specialising in string theory, was treated by the present government. He was appointed as Director of TIFR, by a high powered committee, which included Prof CNR Raoand Dr Kasturi Rangan, assumed the charge, on January 1, 2015 and was unceremoniously removed because the PMO, did not approve the recommendations of the committee. The interference is unprecedented in the history of the leading institute of the country.
Dr Ramachandran in his long article published in “Frontline” (April 17, 2015), wrote, 'The Centre's rejection of the appointment of a new Director for the TIFR points to politico-bureaucratic meddling in the functioning of institutions, undermining their autonomy.' This is not an isolated incident; the attack on the scientific community had started as soon as Modi Sarkar took charge. The anti-scholarship and anti-intellect stance of the new government was amply clear when during the successful injection of MOM (Mass Orbiter Mission) into Mars orbit was celebrated by the entire country.
Dr Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO, or the mission Director, or for that matter, any ISRO scientists was not allowed to speak to the press. The whole event was converted into Modi Marketing Episode and those who had slogged to make it a success were completely blacked out. Taking lead from the Prime Minister, Smriti Irani, the 12th standard graduate, Cabinet Minister for Human Resources Development, during her short stint as Minister, has repeatedly and continually insulted VCs, Scientists, Professors and intellectuals with impunity. The prestigious institutions, like NT Delhi faced her wrath when R Shevgaonkar Director, resisted her interference. Instead of facing the repeated humiliation perpetrated by RSS guided Minister for MHRD, he decided to resign.
The reports allege that the Minister wanted NT Delhi to pay huge amount of money to Subramaniam Swamy and also a lot space to cricket academy within NT Delhi. The uncivilised behaviour knows no bounds. The most respected nuclear scientist of the country Dr Anil Kakodkarsoon afterthe NT Delhi, episode resigned from chairmanship of the committee for selection of NT directors. Though the cultured Dr Kakodkar refused to reveal details of her behaviour, it was amply clear that he revolted because MHRD wanted to appoint Directors against rules and regulations in a hurry. Probably these were being appointed because of their allegiance to RSS and had no academic merits.
Even DRDO, which was always considered to be a holy cow and was always kept away from controversies and media gaze, was not spared. Dr Avinash Chander, Director General of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and scientific adviser to the defense minister, was removed unceremoniously from office 16 months before his term was to end. Dr Chandra is the man behind Agni Missile and is respected within and outside DRDO for his contributions.
Headless Institutes-waiting for Ganesha-style transplant
As reported by Dr Ramachandran in “Hindu Frontline”, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research - India's largest R&D organization – is without a regular Director-General since January 2014. Since Modi Sarkar has come to power two acting Director-Generals have been appointed as a stop-gap arrangements, yet the government has failed to find DG for one of the oldest scientific institution of the country. CSIR has 38 laboratories spread all over the country, almost half the labs are headless because Directors have not been appointed by the Ministry of Science and Technology. Promotions and recruitment in CSIR is also at standstill. If should be noted that the Prime Minister of the country is de facto the President of Council.
Selection of the head of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, too had run foul of the government. A new President for the JNCASR, an institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), had apparently been selected by an eminent search committee — as has been the practice at the Centre — about a year and a half ago and the name had also been sent to the government for approval about 15 months ago. But the earlier government had left it to the new regime to take action on it.
The new government, however, rejected the selection. Following this, the JNCASR issued an open call for nominations/applications, and a search committee approved by the government is on the job to select the new head ab initio. Even the constitution of the search committee now needed the government's approval. The Institute has now an acting head.
A fairly detailed editorial in “Indian Express” reported, "It is unfortunate to see the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) not having a full-time director for almost eight months now.” India's Green Revolution owes its origins to the high-yielding Kalyan Sona and Sonalika wheat varieties that were bred from this institute in the mid-sixties. Even in recent times, IARI scientists have developed blockbuster varieties like Pusa-1121 rice (generating annual export earnings of over $ 3 billion) and HD-2967 wheat (planted in an unprecedented 8 million hectares this year).
Given the challenges before Indian agriculture - be it from climate change, growing land and water resource constraints, or limited scope for minimum support price increases - the importance of publicly-funded research in boosting crop yields and reducing production costs should be obvious today. It is all the more surprising, then, that an institution like the IARI is headless.
Worse, the Agriculture Ministry claims it hasn't found anybody "suitable" to be director - after taking eight months to conduct the interviews from the time of advertising the post. On March 22, 2015 the “Times of India” reported that 'The ICMR, the foremost body for biomedical research in India with a network of 32 research centres, became headless.' V.M. Katoch, former Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research retired in March, 2015. The council still remains without a permanent Director General. Despite the voices of sanity raising the red flag, government remains headless.
Most people think that government is being run by the inexperienced; soon they will come to senses, and pay attention of the scientific and technological needs of the country However, one year's experience shows that stifling Indian Science and Technology infrastructure is a determined policy of Modi Sarkar. The agenda to kill Indian science suits corporate sector as well as multinational companies. The Sarkar knows it well that what has been built in the past sixty years can be destroyed in five years; its impact will be felt only after decades. Nehru had said, 'Who indeed could afford to ignore science today?' Modi Sarkar has proved Nehru wrong.
Crushing monetarily
Modi Sarkar came to power in the last quarter of the budgetary year, i.e. 2014-15. This quarter was the worst in the history of Indian science after independence. The Sarkar revised the budget, created a panic among the science departments and scientific community. The budgetary cuts were huge, Atomic Energy's budget was reduced by almost 12%, Ministry of Earth Sciences faced 21.3% cut, Ministry of New & Renewable Energy faced a slash of about 42%, and Department of Space which had successfully launched the Mars Mission was rewarded with a budget cut of about 20%.
The Department of Agricultural Research and Education, which has given the nation green revolution and food security, was handed over a purse which contained almost 21% less money Similar was the fate of all science departments baring the Defence Research and Development. In the following table the cuts have not been normalised for National Inflation rate, which will only amplify the deficit and illustrate that the situation was far worse than what the table shows:

The budget cuts created unprecedented anxiety among the scientific community, which was widespread and all pervasive. Hundreds of projects of national importance were stopped, delayed or terminated. New projects that were scheduled to take off were shelved for good. International cooperative projects with matching grants from India and other countries were differed, bringing bad name to the country. Thousands of trained project staff was chucked out of the institutions, a loss for ever, because this manpower was not engaged on permanent basis.
The picture for the year 2015-16 is as gloomy. The increase in allocation, where ever shown is in fact a reduction. The inflation rate of 8% will mean that all the departments are being allocated funds which are even less than the year 2014-15. The most unfortunate is the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, where the allocation is reduced to one third of the previous year. The double speak that Modi Sarkar indulges in is amply clear, on the one hand Minsters have gone around the world emphasising the importance of new and renewable energy sources and on the other hand the allocation of funds to research in this area has been slashed to an amount which will result into closure all worthwhile projects.
As per experts, this increase in budget allocation should take into account the following:
• the ambitions for high research quality,
• funds for establishment of elite centre especially in NTs,
• funds for doing cutting edge and globally competitive research,
• and also national inflation rate Disregarding the accepted norms effective reduction in expenditure on science and technology will have far reaching results.
Science cannot be done in fits and starts; it needs continuity, years of meticulous labour by trained manpower. It is only then the international scientific community will take you seriously. We need to protect science and scientific establishment. The immediate and distant future is at stake.
The above table provides information about the allocation made for 2014-2015 for various scientific departments and revision made by government's usual mid-year budget revisions. All the scientific departments have been downsized from 8.2 percent (DSIR) to as high as 41.9 percent (MNRE) for funds allocation except for 5.2 percent upfor DRDO. Though, 14-15 percent increase is required every year but the budget allocation for 201 5-2016 shows meagre increase.
Technological capability building
One of the most important 'flag-ship' projects of Modi Sarkar is 'Make in India'. By the very nature of terminology and intent, this project portrays a 'comprador baniya' status to Indian technological capabilities. The make in India aspires to boost manufacturing and that too by inviting foreign capitalists. Such a kind of technology transfer (through relaxed FDI routes) will necessarily be 'capital intensive' and labour-saving' technologies. Will it benefit our country which is already reeling with huge unemployment/ under-employment?
Front of the book
This sarkar has junked even the 'imitative' technology substitution policies of Congress regime, and it now seems it has given up - even before starting - the 'competitive regime' of technological capability - which is the jargon now. What is the utility of 'innovation' for this sarkar who claims that all those things that are needed to be discovered and invented were already invented by our sages eons back!
---
*Scientist. From the book, "365 Days: Democracy & Secularism Under the Modi Regime"

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