In Calcutta of 1914, at the heart of India’s intellectual fraternity, the first edition of the Indian Science Congress was organised by the newly constituted Indian Science Congress Association, with the objective of “advancing and promoting the cause of science in India”. It soon became a festival of cutting-edge scientific dialogues and intellectual robustness, following the British model of the Association of Science. After Independence, the annual sessions of the Congress came to be presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru himself, given his great enthusiasm for the growth of science in India. His leadership turned the gathering into a globally-recognised event with scientists and Nobel laureates from all over the world flying to India to attend the Congress, and sharing their ideas with the Indian community.
I remember my school days when getting selected for a presentation at the Indian Science Congress was regarded as a remarkable achievement and an early sign of future excellence in science. At the 98th edition of the Congress held at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, which happens to be my own alma mater, six Nobel laureates were present under the same roof, giving inspiring lectures to a generation of young Indian scientists. For the past few years, however, that luster seems to have passed from the congregation. So, what went wrong?
With the politics of saffronisation came a systematic effort to appropriate the myths and legends of the Indian cultural tradition. Also, there was a substantial push towards the promotion of pseudo-nationalism, disregarding history and facts. This is what has led to the rise of willful stupidity in those who see the agenda of Hindutva placed above logic and conscience.
It’s a shame that a union minister of science and technology recently outright claimed that Stephen Hawking preferred the Vedic version of E=mc2 over Einstein’s theory, which happened to be based on a fake Facebook page. Tragically enough, this claim was made from the podium of the Indian Science Congress. When a minister publicly denies Darwin’s theory of evolution because his ancestors didn’t see apes turning into humans, or a judge says that peacocks conceive through their tears instead of sex, such outrageous rhetoric can be dismissed as fringe, but when university Vice Chancellors and so-called ‘scientists’ promote similarly baseless ideas on a platform that is supposed to endorse an outlook of science and skepticism, something really seems to have gone wrong.
The recently concluded 106th edition of the Science Congress only saw the emancipation of this contagious irrationality. Although it began with Mr. Modi’s ambitious slogan of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Anusandhan”, the congregation soon transformed into a dais for pseudo-science and sheer mockery. That stem-cell research was prominent in ancient India giving birth to the Kauravas, that Gravitational waves are soon to be renamed as ‘Narendra Modi waves’, and that Newton had no credible understanding of physical laws, are some of the nonsensical and baseless statements made by the so-called ‘elite’ of the Indian academia at a place where learning and logic has to be entertained.
What drives people at the forefront of the academia to make such outrageous claims with impunity? It is a matter of introspection for all of us. In our meaningless preoccupation with party politics and debates on religion, we have allowed the malignant growth of hypocrisy and ignorance in science and education. If this goes on for another couple of years, all we will be left with would be absurdity and superstition. It will leave our hard-earned heritage of scientific discoveries and inventions in the shadow. Let’s talk about Aryabhatta and Sushrut, let’s talk about Kanad and Bhaskaracharya, but let’s not turn Indian science into a bunch of jokers and sensation-seekers spreading nonsence disguised as nationalism and cultural pride.
It is time we remember what Swami Vivekananda said about the threat orthodoxy posed to the intellectual growth of our civilisation:
“If this goes on for another century, every one of us will be in a lunatic asylum. It is a sure sign of softening of the brain when the mind cannot grasp the higher problems of life; all originality is lost, the mind has lost all its strength, its activity, and its power of thought, and just tries to go round and round the smallest curve it can find.”
Let’s hope that the Indian Science Congress Association and the Indian government as well take strong measures to curb this relentless free flow of pseudoscience and superstition in this country which gave the world pioneers as great as C. V. Raman and Hargobind Khorana.