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Showing posts with label RSS/BJP Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RSS/BJP Government. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Converting science into obscurantism

The cult of hindutva first appeared on the political horizon in the 1980s as a movement to build a temple in Ayodhya where a mosque stood. Over the next decade, its leadership stoked the most primal of mankind’s urges, religious bigotry, and helped vault its political front, the BJP, to power in coalition with several other political parties. Finally, in May 2014, hindutva found utterance in the formation of a majority government headed by Narendra Modi, a self-described pracharak of the mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Now three years into its terms, the government is being shown up as inept and clueless about governance. There are many instances of its abject failures on the policy front as it tries to promote its hindutva agenda. What follows is the story of an attempt to paint science policy in saffron hues.

According to a report in The Hindu, the Modi government has directed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) “to generate half of its funds and start sending report cards to the Centre on how each… laboratory (is) focusing its resources on developing specific lines of inventions which would contribute to the social and economic objectives of the Narendra Modi government for the poor and the common man”.

For the record, CSIR was established in 1942 to fund and develop original scientific and industrial research. Starting out as a testing and quality control unit, the organisation sadly failed to evolve to fulfil the grandiose dreams of its votaries, and has degenerated into an ineffectual bureaucracy that’s done what a bureaucracy does best: expanded its turf to affiliate 40 ‘research laboratories’. Unsurprisingly, its list of achievements in 75 years of existence is unimpressive.

At first glance, the government’s directive is not unconscionable. CSIR has grazed in the fields of public funding all these years to produce very little of consequence. To that extent, the June 2015 directive, announced at what the Hindustan Times dubbed a “chintan shivir (think camp) for scientists” in Dehradun was welcome.

However, nothing is uncomplicated or untwisted in the world of hindutva champions. The optics suggested that the Modi government wants to use the rod against CSIR and whip it into shape. In the so-called Dehradun declaration issued at the end of the summit, The Hindu quoted a senior official who attended the meeting as saying, “The most worrisome aspect was representatives from Vigyan Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), being part of this discussion. The idea was to ensure ‘indigenous science’ was promoted. But what was the RSS doing in this meeting?”

The plan seems to be to reward foot soldiers of hindutva with jobs and lucrative projects in RSS-favoured fields, especially research and development of ‘indigenous’ science, a thinly-veiled nudge for cow urine pharmacology and therapy. Bypassing the ministry of science and technology, the AYUSH ministry has taken charge of the project.

Thus, AYUSH minister of state Sripad Naik announced in Parliament, that “CSIR through its constituent laboratories has conducted research studies… on cow urine distillate for its anti-oxidant and bio-enhancing properties on anti-infective and anti-cancer agents and nutrients. Four US patents have been secured… and one pharmaceutical product containing cow urine distillate with anti-oxidant property is available in the market”.

In a scathing critique of “the government’s cow urine craze,” The Wire, a news portal, expressed concern about the AYUSH ministry promoting obscurantism. Since November 2014 when it was constituted, just five months after the Modi government assumed office, the ministry began to sprout saffron wings.

Intended to serve as a knowledge and resource centre for traditional medicine systems, it was set up in 1995 as a department in the health ministry, the outcome of a 1993 push by Sam Pitroda to incorporate traditional Indian systems of medicine into a holistic public health offering. To that end, Pitroda established I-AIM (Institute for Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine), whose major focus was on creating a database of medicinal plants. From there to the department of Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy (ISMH) was a short hop. In 2003, the BJP-led government attempted to burnish its hindutva credentials after four years of non-performance: it transformed the department of ISMH into the AYUSH ministry.

Now more than a decade later, the Modi government seems to have concluded that it needs to do more to woo the base; hence, its focus on the cow. To marry this to its ‘development’ agenda, it convened the chintan shivir of scientists in Dehradun. The idea seems to have been to impart a modern touch to its obscurantism, seeking to make cow urine a CSIR focus, an initiative that fits into its Make in India, Skill India, IT plus IT equals IT manifesto of acronyms that are a unique feature of this non-performing regime.

Lamentably, a commendable academic effort to document traditional medical knowledge has been subverted by hindutva obscurantism to a profound absurdity and object of ridicule.

(From Education World, June 2017.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

RSS/BJP’s losing ticket

Universities are the swiftest elevators to social standing; they provide students with the academic wherewithal to find a place for themselves in the world. Higher education also unlocks opportunities: in the professions, academy, high councils of society and the state. A college education for the poor and the working class is a release from daily-wage survival; for the middle class, it offers a vaulting opportunity to achievement and accomplishment; for the upper class, it’s an endorsement of wealth and status.

In the West, especially in the United States, universities have long been propagators of knowledge, innovation and progressive ideas on society and culture. They tend to be busy centres of reform movements that often dovetail into larger groups campaigning for civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights, environment protection and human rights.

In India, universities have been what a US professor, my graduate guide, once called “elite selection programs” in which bright students quickly learn that performance and conformism can help them vault to choice corporate and civil service jobs or to universities abroad. They have served also as ritualistic ashrams for long-suffering young people shepherded onto the right path by authoritarian family structures. Such graduates become part of middle management in the private sector, university teachers and self-employed agents of business and financial services. Universities also play a somewhat unsavoury role as factories for misfits who become the cannon fodder of political parties, trade unions and lower civil services.

The word university is not easily applied in the Indian context because it’s drawn from the Latin root meaning “whole”. Whatever else they may do, universities here do not provide a holistic experience, fragmented as they are by caste, religion, ideology but mostly by poor teachers, irrelevant coursework and cursory examinations. They do not offer the kind of insights into the humanities or exposure to the sciences as do their counterparts in the West.

Nevertheless, universities in India have changed from enclaves of elites to highly politicised islands in a society that has been in upheaval since the economic reforms of 1991. A growing consciousness of rights and entitlements, coupled with higher incomes and better opportunities, have transformed the landscape outside varsity campuses. With people demanding instant pieces of the pie, an environment of growing lawlessness and crime posed major political challenges which governments found insurmountable. Between 1996-2004 there were six governments.

Ten years of the UPA government (2004-2014) saw unprecedented and sustained economic growth. The size of the national pie increased dramatically and with it, the number of claimants. Bruised by a no-holds-barred battle over the US civil nuclear deal in 2008 with its own Left ally, the UPA government began to let things slip. Though it was re-elected with a bigger majority in 2009, the bond that provided the base strength, the understanding between the government and the Congress party, began to fray.

In the event, the opposition parties succeeded in rabble-rousing their way to power. In May 2014, the first majority government in 30 years took office; the first one backed by the RSS, an unelected and shadowy group that neither participated in the freedom movement nor accepted the Constitution and its symbols including the flag and the national anthem.

Though it describes itself a ‘cultural’ organisation, the RSS has an overtly political agenda. It’s spurring the BJP government to eradicate all traces of the liberal nationalism that won the country freedom from British colonial rule, and replace it with a Hindu majoritarian order. In practice, the plan is to shred the thinning sliver of civility that has won this country much admiration. India is an example of how despite poverty and a hundred socio-economic ills, it has preserved a liberal democracy that cherishes freedom, rule of law and universal adult franchise.

Whatever their faults universities are crucibles of liberal values. True, they tend to be illiberal on a spectrum of economic issues. But on all matters of equity, justice, compassion, they stand out as islands of liberalism. Over the past decade, the RSS’ student wing ABVP has made its presence felt on campuses to take Left student organisations head-on. It is at the forefront of the current controversy. In seeking to further its agenda, the RSS probably feels universities are both strongholds and weakest links.

To win support, the saffron clan seeks to pin tags on universities: bastions of left liberals, covens of anti-national elements, fornicators, beefeaters, what have you. Meanwhile, the BJP government thinks it has stalled all opposition to this by tying it up in legal knots, where the litmus test is: do you approve of anti-national groupings?

In the end, without resorting to authoritarian rule, the BJP is on a losing ticket. The world over, in constitutional democracies, universities and students have always come out on top in confrontation with governments. To understand that, though, you have to read history, not forever try to revise it.

(An edited version of this post will appear in http://http://www.educationworld.in, March 9, 2016.)