Ideology over science

The Science and Technology Ministry has directed all laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to begin “self-financing” their research. The ostensible purpose is to make financing for scientific research more accountable. But taken together with other developments, this must flag serious concerns about the priorities and the ideological agenda the government is bringing to bear on the scientific community. The decision on “self-financing” was announced at a “Chintan Shivir” in Dehradun this June, in consultation with the RSS. The fact that laboratories were also asked to be mindful of the government’s “social and economic agenda”, therefore, comes as confirmation of the creeping influence of Sangh Parivar affiliates in the science, health and research landscape. It raises questions about the intent behind a similar “self-financing” mandate to the Department of Health Research, which recently shut down the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, India’s only agency collecting data on nutrition deficiency among marginalised populations. It is not only that the BJP-led government’s failures to support science and public health are being foregrounded. It is, just as menacingly, that the Sangh Parivar’s ideological assault on reason and scientific temper is being institutionalised. The results are showing. The Ministries of Science and Technology and Health are actively seeking private partnerships to keep research projects going. The international public health community is tracking the developments with alarm. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet , said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had consistently and deliberately sidelined the health sector since coming to power. He warned of an impending “collapse”.

The Modi government’s inherent discomfort with “scientific” evidence that may run counter to views shaped largely by the Sangh’s leanings has grave public policy implications. For example, when data collection on nutrition is undermined, policy design can be disconnected from desired outcomes easily. So Madhya Pradesh’s BJP government has stopped serving eggs as part of the mid-day meal scheme, removing an important source of nutrition for schoolchildren. None of this is surprising. Whenever scientific data become inconvenient for the government, it has no qualms in suppressing the research. The CSIR is the backbone of scientific and technological research. Expecting researchers to fund themselves with help from industry and setting “deliverable targets” for them to further a socio-economic agenda too is a clear way of curbing dissent. India’s social sector is already strained for funds, and the increasing politicisation of science is an attempt by the government to force its objectives on research. No two disciplines are less compatible than politics and science. But then, the government and the Sangh personnel behind these decisions have anyway privileged ideology over science.