November 16, 2014

Modi: Science and Nonsense

Prabir Purkayastha

MODI's post electoral agenda is one, even more pro-rich policies, masquerading as development, combined with a medieval mindset. His economic policies have been an attack on the workers, the liquidating of the public sector, and giving up planning in favour of – in his view – the all powerful and all knowing “gods of the market”. For him, business is not the business of the government, translating that the government will henceforth work to help the capitalists. At the same time, as is observed with all authoritarian figures, Modi has a fascination for the big – a big statue to Vallabhbhai Patel, big technology such as bullet trains, smart cities, and interconnecting rivers, whether it makes economic sense or not. Lauding Patel had two objectives – one is to claim some BJP “credit” for the national movement. The other is to pretend that somehow Patel was more aligned with the RSS, essentially using Patel to attack the concept of an inclusive, secular India for which Nehru was a passionate believer. We have already written in these columns on the need to develop the railways as an integral system and not try and superimpose bullet trains as almost a separate system. That would leave the bulk of railway users untouched while creating a “monument” to Modi. Similarly, smart cities are only for the upwardly mobile middle class with their lap tops and smart phones, who can use the new smart infrastructure, and not addressing such basic issues as land, water, roads, schools and other public structure for the not so “smart” citizens. ATTACK ON SCIENCE The BJP and interestingly enough similar formations have a fascination for technology while disliking science. For them, modernity is not in the mind but in its manifestation as big technology. Theirs is the belief that there is no contradiction in developing big technology while prescribing Mahabharata for genetics and cosmetic surgery. What they forget is that without science as basis, we cannot develop big technology either. If students believe as Batra does in his Hindutva infected books or as the Islamists do in Pakistan, we will not only not get good science but will also destroy the basis of developing new technology. If the Hindutva project could live comfortably with science, at least it would have saved critical thinking, so important to democracy and also technological innovation. But the problem is the Batra (or Modi) science that comes as a part of the baggage of Hindutva, demands that we have to take as gospel truth that is in our mythology. We now have a prime minister who gets up and unabashedly talks about India having genetics and organ transplants based on the Mahabharata. Apparently Karna was a product of “genetics” that existed at that time and Ganesh, a result of “plastic” surgery! We now have the prime minister of the country making a laughing stock of himself and the country by spouting such utter nonsense in public. All this is a part of Gujarat’s compulsory reading list for government primary and secondary schools – the Batra primer of how all major technical advances in the world were there in India from ancient times. This is also now the agenda for NCERT, where Batra and his ilk will dictate what should be taught in our schools. We can laugh – and the world indeed does – about such utter stupidity being introduced in education. But why is it so dangerous? For this, we have to see what happened to Pakistan's science when the Islamists took it over under Zia-ul Haq. We had “scientists” who were “researching” on djins as a source of perpetual energy, very much like Batra would like geneticists to research on Mahabharata to discover stem cell and genetics. Myth, taken as truth, leads science to blind alleys. A scientific quest requires an open mind that critically examines old theories, new evidence to try and understand the world. A mind that believes in mythologies as scientific truth is just the opposite. It closes knowledge from any advance and therefore is completely antithetical to any advances – either in science or in technology. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist and peace activist has written on what happened to science in countries where Islamists have acquired influence. He says, “The traditional ulema are indeed a problem, but they are not the biggest one; the biggest problem is Islamism, a radical and often militant interpretation of Islam that spills over from the theological domain into national and international politics. Whenever and wherever religious fundamentalism dominates, blind faith clouds objective and rational thinking. If such forces take hold in a society, they create a mindset unfavourable for critical inquiry, including scientific inquiry, with its need to question received wisdom.” BLIND FAITH THAT RENOUNCES REASON The Batras of this world and the Islamists – the sectarian Hindu and Islamic thinking – share a common DNA. They all require blind faith and renounce reason. And without reason, neither science and technology nor a modern society can survive. The RSS view of the past is also its link to what it considers as its version of Indian nationalism. The RSS claims it is a nationalist force. They never participated in the national movement against the British. Their focus, as always, was only against the Muslims. While the Congress, the socialists and the communists all had major figures who led struggles against the British, the only figure the Hindutva forces have ever produced is Savarkar. Yes, Savarkar did have an important role at the start of the national movement, but marred it by his surrender to the British later. His visceral hatred led him to be a party in the conspiracy in Gandhi's assassination. Apart from Savarkar's early years, the RSS can find no other figure in the national movement. So in what way are the RSS nationalists, even though they did not participate in the movement to throw out the British? The answer to that is that for the RSS, fighting Islamic “invasion” that took place in the 11th-12th century is nationalism. Its nationalism is not directed against the British but against Muslims who they felt had conquered India. That is why while talking about the future, they exist only in the past; driving towards the future with their eyes firmly fixed in the rear view mirror. The RSS nationalism demands that the Muslims must now submit to Hindus in order to reverse the conquest of Hindus by Muslims in the 11th-12th century. That is why the Babri Masjid had to be demolished. That is why the communal agenda – it is to create a sectarian Hindu state where other minorities will be under the subjugation of the so-called Hindus. I am using so-called Hindus here, as the Hindu community has not given the RSS and the Hindutva brigade to speak for them. This is not even a majoritarian project – it is a project of a small minority that claims to speak for the majority. It is also interesting how the BJP has always liked big technology and disliked science. You can climb on a Toyota and call it a “Rath” and talk about Ram's birthplace without having to go through the methods of science – actually gather and sift through evidence, make conjectures, try and prove it, etc. All of this is hard work and requires critical thinking, something that strains the RSS mind too much. Unfortunately, in striking against science, we will also destroy the basis of technological advance. It is India's investing in science and technology institutions in post independence and Nehruvian India – and in building scientific temper – that created the basis for an ISRO and a BARC. Without these institutions, big technology in India is not possible. History is a scientific discipline while TV utterances of even the prime ministers are not. This is the test of science – whoever says it, it can be verified and proven. Nonsense, however “exalted” the person is, still remains nonsense.