Attempts to Poison and Choke the Indian Science Congress
OVER the decade rather successfully the current government and the Sangh Parivar have poisoned the more than 100 year old Indian Science Congress (ISC) by injecting controversies deliberately since 2014. As a last blow and an attempt to strangle the ISC, the Modi government’s Department of Science and Technology cancelled the funding for ISC which was to have been held in January 2024.
As an economist puts it in the larger perspective “The commitment to promoting scientific temper, self reliance in S & T, and spread of science education was relatively strong in the first three decades following independence, though it was not entirely free of occasional surrender to obscurantism inherent in the nature of the then prevailing relations of production and the nature of the landlord state. But the onslaught of three forces from 1990 onwards, namely the rise of Hindutva hordes, the imposition of a neoliberal socio-economic order and the global rise of right wing ideology – greatly weakened the commitment to promotion of scientific temper, S&T self reliance and spread of science education. The ascent of RSS-BJP and its control of the union government as well as many state governments in the last decade have destroyed much of the established science academies and centres of higher education committed to science. This is the history and context that underlie the present situation”.
INDIAN SCIENCE CONGRESS
The Indian Science Congress was first held at the Asiatic Society, Calcutta in 1914 by the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) as a way to stimulate scientific research in India by holding an annual meeting of research workers somewhat on the lines of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The ISCA owed its origin to the foresight and initiative of two British chemists, namely, Professor J L Simonsen and Professor P S MacMahon. The first ISC was presided over by Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta.
Between 1914 and 1947 several leading scientists of India and abroad presided over ISC notably Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, M Visvesvaraya, J C Bose, C V Raman, M N Saha, S N Bose, S S Bhatnagar. The 34th annual session of the ISC was held at Delhi in 1947 with the general president as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. His genuine sustained interest in the development of scientific atmosphere in the country, particularly among young generations, immensely enriched the activities of the Congress.
In 1976, M S Swaminathan, the then general president of ISCA introduced the idea of a focal theme of national relevance which has since been continued as a practice. The focal theme of each ISC was discussed in every section, committee and forum during the annual session. ISC thus became a platform where members from different disciplines and from different walks of life could contribute to discussions on the focal theme.
The ISC has continued to especially benefit students from public funded state universities. As a retired professor of physics from a Tamilnadu University said, “Many of the research scholars from our laboratory had participated and updated their field of interest. It is an opportunity for them to learn novel technological advances from the lectures and demonstration from scientists and professors of eminence drawn from across the institutions of excellence. This enabled them to get ideas about their future research as post doctoral fellows etc.”
And so it was till 2014 when the Hindutva government took charge and poisoned the process by either the government ministers or other Hindutva accolades pushing controversial topics and papers, leading to criticisms by rational scientists, academicians from within the country and outside. The All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN) in a press statement had then said, “The assertions made at the Indian Science Congress by the minister of science and technology Dr Harsh Vardhan in 2018 (quoting Stephen Hawking as saying mass energy equivalence is from vedas) and other invited speakers (2015- Anand Bodas: aviation in ancient India; 2016- Pandey: Siva as environmentalist, Sharma: conch blowing health benefits) are against the spirit of the directive principles of the constitution regarding the need to inculcate scientific temper. Moreover, the stated vision of the Indian Science Congress is “To inculcate scientific temper among the common people”. AIPSN had also demanded that the president, the scientific advisor to the PMO, the three Indian Science Academies and the Indian Science Congress Association step in to end this repeated misuse of the Indian Science Congress since 2014 to spread pseudoscience and irrationality.
A scientist who retired from a research institute puts it like this: “ISC has lost its programme for mainline of science, but has been useful for areas of geography, anthropology, and areas where many university persons work. This has been now replaced by RSS through their cultural, Hindutva programme. It would be good to give a proper direction to ISC without killing it. Academies should play a positive role in this. A committee of academy and prominent scientists with a good international component should play a pivotal role in running the ISC. As PM by practice takes part, it should have better role for top ranking scientists too”.
ENTER THE INDIA INTERNATIONAL
As a way to dilute the ISC, the Modi government in 2015 started a parallel India International Science Festival (IISF). This is now an annual flagship event of Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA) a Sangh Parivar outlet. The IISF has its office in Gujarat. The brochures of the IISF each year are sprinkled with photos and quotes of Narendra Modi. The members of the IISF committee include all secretaries of government departments and office bearers of VIBHA. The government budget for the IISF is between Rs 20 crore to Rs 25 crore, compared with Rs 5 crore for the ISC’s conference.
A rationalist and teacher from a college observes: “I tried to apply for the IISF2023 to be held in January 2024 but did not get it. They ask for details like Aadhaar, pan card, etc which the ISCA has never asked. It’s a very sad state. Government is promoting VIBHA whose aims and objectives are 'not true promotion of science and scientific temper', though they may be saying so. The hidden agenda is Hindutva based promotion of science or science based promotion of religion”.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
A retired professor from a public state university who knows more tells “I agree that the ISC has lost meaning. However to replace it with IISF and to project this as the national scientific conference is, from what I know about the organisers, merely an attempt to use every possible source of funds and every aspect of human activity to win elections”.
ISC is not yet officially dead, ISCA is still hoping to get funds from other sources and continue to hold an ISC in 2024. But how far will it work out remains a moot question given the stranglehold of the government in most educational institutions especially when the official stamp of the government is not going to be there.
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