What do we expect of our prime ministers? This is not a rhetorical question and you’ll soon see why. We expect integrity, commitment, dedication, administrative expertise and, hopefully, a fair modicum of intelligence. But is that all?
As important as all the other qualities, we also expect rationality. We may not always agree with what our prime ministers say or are committed to do but we assume that their thoughts and actions are rational, well-considered and credible. In other words, even if their decisions turn out to be wrong — and that often happens — they won’t offend against common sense.
It is here that I have a bone to pick with Narendra Modi. Speaking at the inauguration of the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre last Saturday, he said: “Mahabharat ka kehna hai ki Karn maa ki godh se paida nahi hua tha. Iska matlab yeh hai ki us samaye genetic science mojud tha … Hum Ganeshji ki puja kiya karte hain, koi to plastic surgeon hoga us zamane main, jisne manushye ke sharir par haathi ka sar rakh kar ke plastic surgery ka prarambh kiya hoga .” [It is said in the Mahabharata that Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means in the times in which the epic was written genetic science was very much present. We all worship Lord Ganesha; for sure there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, to fit an elephant’s head on the body of a human being.]
No doubt many Hindus share Mr. Modi’s assumption that in prehistoric mythological times India had mastered genetic science and plastic surgery. As individuals they are free to believe what they want. But for the Prime Minister of India to proclaim this belief as fact — and that too at the inauguration of a hospital — is something else.
Why? This is because it’s not rational to use mythology as the basis for claiming scientific achievements. First, there’s no proof other than the assumption the myth is true and that’s an unwarranted assumption. Second, how do you account for the fact the scientific knowledge and achievements you are boasting of have been lost, if not also long forgotten, and there is no trace of any records to substantiate they ever occurred?
Even worse, Mr. Modi’s views echo those of Dinanath Batra. His books are now part of the curriculum in 42,000 schools across Gujarat and carry messages from Mr. Modi when he was Chief Minister. They claim stem cell research was known in the days of Kunti and the Kauravas, television was invented at the time of the Mahabharata and the motor car existed in the Vedic period. Few would deny this is nonsense. Why wouldn’t you say the same for the claim India mastered genetic science and plastic surgery in prehistoric times?
I have two further points. First, Mr. Modi wants to build smart cities, stresses the need for education and is proud of the successful mission to Mars. He believes in digital India, wants to import bullet trains and ‘Make in India’ state-of-the-art defence weaponry. These are 21st century ambitions. How does all of that sit alongside this belief in unverified mythology? Are they not contradictory?
Second, Greek mythology has centaurs and minotaurs; the Persians have the griffin; the British the unicorn; and fairy tales have mermaids and werewolves. Mr. Modi’s position would also lead us to believe these creatures actually existed. But does anyone believe they did? Surely only in our dreams? Or only whilst we were children?
Ultimately, my problem with the Prime Minister’s comment goes a step further, but it could be the most critical of all. Under Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution it’s the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper. I can’t see how the Prime Minister is doing that by blatantly claiming medical advances on the basis of unverified myths. His views clearly and undeniably contradict this constitutional requirement. In fact, if he thinks about it I feel confident Mr. Modi would not disagree!
These are troubling doubts and for the Prime Minister to be the cause of them is even more worrying. Finally, I’m dismayed this issue has not got greater attention in the media. Nor, to my astonishment, has any Indian scientist refuted the Prime Minister’s claims. Their silence is perplexing. The silence of the media is deeply disturbing. It feels as though it’s been deliberately blanked out by everyone.
( Karan Thapar is a television commentator and anchor of the Headlines Today programme, To The Point )