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Ministers who spew rubbish need to be criminally charged

Sumit Mitra
Sumit MitraMar 18, 2018 | 18:42

Ministers who spew rubbish need to be criminally charged

Union minister of state for Human Resource Development ministry, Satyapal Singh, says Darwin's theory of evolution is all wrong because nobody saw an ape turning into a human being. He is not ignorant. Before joining the BJP, he served as Mumbai's police commissioner. Since that required qualifying the highly competitive UPSC examination, it may be presumed that his developing such original views on the evolution of man is a recent development. Later, the cop-turned-mystic said that the mantras that are part of the Vedas might have preceded Newton's laws of motion by several millennia.

That's not all. Union minister for science and technology, Harsh Vardhan - who also happens to be a doctor - at his inaugural address at the Indian Science Congress, cited a "fake" website saying that late scientist Stephen Hawking was of the view that Vedic theories were superior to Albert Einstein's celebrated mass-energy equation.

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In 2014, as the BJP recaptured power at the Centre, its chosen Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself set the trend of making wild claims about the achievements of an imagined Hindu "golden age", when he boasted that Ganesha's head was indeed that of a pachyderm, transplanted by Vedic plastic surgeons.

Clearly, Satyapal Singh's current doubts on Darwin's evolution theory are at odds with his past record. Because apart from getting into the Indian Police Service through competitive examinations, he had done MPhil in chemistry from Delhi University and MBA from Australia. If he had harboured doubts on a landmark discovery of modern science, why did he keep it all to himself till the end of his civil service career, when he joined the RSS and bagged a ministerial berth?

Harsh Vardhan, on his part, had a long career in medicine, so his zeal to put in the mouth of a dead scientist words in praise of the Vedas, and in disparagement of Einstein, is the unlikeliest of a doctor's dilemma.

This tendency to hurt the logical mindset of normal people with normal education is now widespread. Thus Modi says "it is not that climate has changed; it is our ability to tolerate cold that has changed".

Besides, there is the education minister of Haryana, with the earth-shattering information that "cows exhale oxygen". Then somebody in the government offers an even more dramatic piece of information that cow's excreta has prophylactic capability against cancer.

The question that arises is whether BJP is anti-science by instinct or by design? Probably both. Science moves in the global orbit without boundaries. And that makes the ultra-nationalist heart palpitate, be it that of India's BJP or of those in Nazi Germany.

After the First World War, German scientists such as Max Planck and Philipp Lenard became architects of the Deutsche Physik (German physics) movement, to keep out Jewish physics, which was becoming the shorthand for Einstein.

In 1935, Adolf Hitler lent his full heft to the "movement" by passing a law that prohibited Jews (and communists) from occupying public posts, including university chairs. However, Deutsche Physik was not only against Jews; it had a bias against theoretical physics, especially quantum mechanics and theory of relativity.

In BJP's case, the unease with modern science is endemic. During the first NDA government, the discomfort with "scientific temper", set as one of the fundamental duties in the Constitution, was obvious as it could run against the BJP's Hindutva project, aimed at self glorification by falsifying history.

At that time, the anti-science campaign was spearheaded by Murli Manohar Joshi, the then HRD minister. It was he who put astrology and astronomy on an equal footing and would often rant against "Newtonian science" for leaving no headroom for uncertainty.

In the NDA-2 period, however, the unscientific rigmarole from ruling party's politicians seems more orchestrated. It is related to the impact of technology on mass behaviour, with a large number of lower middle-class people uncritically falling prey to "post-truth".

It is in the league of US President Donald Trump's election campaign, and his assertions like climate change is a "Chinese hoax". Be it in America, or in India, the "scientific temper" is widely applauded by the liberal people but its appalling shortage in the society at large is hardly noticed. In a suburban market in India, just how many people in a randomly selected group of 100 will be able to identify the logical lacuna in the minister's argument that Darwin's theory is hogwash because nobody has seen an ape turning into a man? Take a straw poll. I don't think it is more than 10 per cent. The idea behind so many saffron politicians calling modern science on the carpet is to present educated persons as their perpetrators, like the Nazis did to "Jewish physics".

The avalanche of "post-truth" riding cheap phones and near-free data plans is posing a challenge to those who prefer "scientific temper" to be given a chance. Just as offending citizens' religious sentiments is a crime, or spreading hate, for that matter, why spreading misinformation can't be declared an offence? Isn't it divisive as it plants the seed of hatred towards the educated people in the minds of the less fortunate ones?

Last updated: March 18, 2018 | 18:42
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