Sunday Anchor

An uncertain glory

On March 2, 2013, almost a year before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre, the party’s then president, Rajnath Singh, addressed his first party national council meeting. The presidential address at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi was meant to lay down the rules for the party’s electoral battle ahead.

Mr. Singh’s address was dedicated to why the BJP is most qualified to lead India into the future. “Friends, India is a country of youth and every youth wants to see India as a great country in the 21st century, but do we have the capacity and the vision which can make India great,” he asked. Posing the question from the dais, he went on to answer it by elaborating on how he thought the Congress was unable to shake off the colonial hangover.

“Friends, I have been a student of Physics so I want to draw your attention towards the experiment taking place in Fundamental Physics. We all know that from mobile phones to Internet and TV, all function on the basis of digital signals. It was possible to make digital signals when quantum mechanics was discovered a hundred years ago,” Mr. Singh, who once taught Physics at a postgraduate college in Mirzapur, said. “The principle through which quantum mechanics was found was the Uncertainty Principle propounded by Werner Heisenberg. If Heisenberg had not propounded it, then quantum mechanics would not have come. And the digital signalling and communications of this age would not have developed. Heisenberg learnt the Uncertainty Principle from the philosophy of Veda of this country. Heisenberg came to India in 1929 and met Rabindranath Tagore. In this meeting he discussed with Tagore different topics related to Vedic philosophy and theoretical physics.”

It is quite another matter that Heisenberg had propounded the uncertainty principle in 1927, two years before he met Tagore.

Yet, Mr. Singh persisted with the claim in his political speech. He even laid an Indian claim to the Higgs Particle. He went on to declare that a BJP government in power would mean unleashing the greatness of the past. “The Congress which was formed in the time of slavery has failed to come out of that mindset. Therefore, the Congress never had the self-confidence to establish the real capacity of India at the world level. If we come to power, then we assure you that the BJP has the vision which can make India the intellectual capital of the world and even more than that it can again make India the Jagatguru,” he said.

Mr. Singh had allowed his beliefs in mythology to overshadow his education in Physics. A similar set of beliefs — asserting that India’s past has the key to the future even in science and technology — are shared by many in his party, including the Prime Minister. Sociologists say the Hindu right wing’s belief in India’s overarching superiority in the past is actually born out of a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis those with a westernised outlook and education.

With a BJP-led government indeed in power, the same chauvinist pride that Mr. Singh displayed in his 2013 speech is in full bloom now. It was on display on October 25, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that India had pushed the boundaries of scientific achievement in ancient times. “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb,” he said adding that Lord Ganesha must have got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being through plastic surgery in those days. These words uttered while addressing an audience of doctors and scientists at the inauguration of the HN Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, drew strong criticism from several quarters. For many who believed that Mr. Modi had come to occupy the country’s top post to bring about development and progress, the remarks belied that promise of a globally competitive and forward-looking India. Unfortunately, the remarks also set the tone for what was to follow in the coming days.

Though Mr. Modi represents the Hindu right wing, his following is not confined to that section alone. “Modi is the symbol of the global future of India for the upwardly mobile, outward looking and technology-driven upper middle class among his supporters,” says Surinder Jodhka, Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He goes on to add that such supporters would obviously be left feeling dismayed or even betrayed at such displays of medieval chauvinism. Mr. Modi is deeply aware of this contradiction and is unlikely to allow it to exist for long. “The right wing has to reinvent itself and they know it.”

A quick learner, Mr. Modi refrained from making any such controversial claims in his inaugural address at the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai on January 4. However, his Cabinet colleague heading the Ministry of Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, a doctor by training, went on to say: “We discovered the Pythagoras Theorem but we gracefully allowed the Greeks to take the credit.” Despite Mr. Modi’s course correction, the message, it appears, has not travelled down.

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Printable version | May 19, 2022 7:55:02 pm |