August 15th, swallow ‘Modicine’ and declare our independence from science
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PMO
In last month’s cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Narendra Modi replaced Harsh Vardhan as Union Science Minister with Jitendra Singh. Since Modi has always pulled the strings, it didn’t matter who his puppet would be. However, Vardhan was a minister of ministerial rank, while Singh is a minister of state. Even though it has science under its “independent charge,” the Ministry of Science and Technology has been demoted.
Just as well, because during Modi’s tenure as Indian Prime Minister one thing was clear: the government’s agenda is determined much less by the work of ministries and much more by what the leader has to do. It doesn’t matter who runs the Science Ministry: Modi has the last and only word. In fact, even when the Ministry had Vardhan at the helm, it wasn’t like big things were happening, and there is no reason we should expect to be any different from Jitendra Singh.
(The same goes for Mansukh Mandaviya, the new minister who succeeded Vardhan as head of the Ministry of Health: in 2019, Mandaviya established himself as a yesman when he tweeted that generic drugs are “commonly referred to as ‘Modicins’.)
Evidence of Singh’s qualifications for the job even came earlier than expected. On August 2, he told an event hosted by Vijnan Bharti, the science front of the RSS, that when Modi went to Katra Vaishno Devi station in Jammu and Kashmir to inaugurate it in 2014, the Prime Minister had one idea in mind: to install solar panels. there because it was a sunny day. “When I spoke of scientific temperament, coming directly from contemporary times, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable examples of scientific temperament around us today is none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself” , Singh said. Are we doing science when the room is dark and we flip the switch?
It must be said that the term “scientific temperament” in the Indian Constitution is associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, and perhaps this is Singh and Modi’s annual attempt to appropriate the term. But “the problem is that no one in Hindutva’s world has a vision – good, bad, or indifferent – to Nehru, and that includes our prime minister,” Aakar Patel wrote in Chronicle of the Deccan earlier this year. This may be the problem with science: the Modi government has always been blind to everything beyond which will keep him in power. When he saw science, he only saw the part of science that had successfully entered his field of vision because it could be traded for something – commerce, diplomacy, industrialism, crony capitalism, whatever.
Remember how the Modi government took credit for the anti-satellite missile test in early 2019, in a two-pronged strategy to impress the masses ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and to circumvent the Commission ban election to be on television since the end of the election campaign?
In that vein, it’s curious why Singh also didn’t mention Modi’s idea of using wind turbines to extract water from the air or when he claimed credit for Balakot’s airstrikes in escaping Pakistani radars because he gave the green light in the middle of the rain. Or how, under Modi’s scientific leadership, the Ministry of Environment became a one-stop-shop authorization system for projects aimed at destroying India’s environmental health. Or that Modi promoted the pseudoscience-filled AYUSH department in a ministry shortly after taking office in 2014.
This is also the reason why the current generation of Indian rulers have constantly confused pseudoscience with science: making their mouths talk will make them headlines and keep their names in the public consciousness, and help gain the likes of senior citizens. officers signaling that they are also capable of spewing nonsense. They don’t care about science, scientific temperament or just be a scientist. Science is untenable for them, even invalid, because it refuses to bend around Modi.
Modi funded the development of Covaxin and the production of Covishield – in the peculiar manner of his establishment – because not supporting these COVID-19 vaccines would have caused him to lose power. Prior to that, he and his colleagues had approved the use of a multitude of drugs to treat COVID-19, without any evidence and without critical questions about their safety. They also took credit for funding Gaganyaan and built the “tallest statue in the world” to boast of their self-proclaimed greatness – just as Modi allowed the Kumbh Mela to shahi snans arrive before calling, towards the end, that people observe the event only symbolically.
They haven’t recognized the fundamentals of science on one end and they haven’t realized where science ends at the other. For example, at the August 2 event where Singh was speaking, he said MP Gandhi “used ahimsa as a scientific tool for biological warfare”! (Listen from 55’04 ”.)
When Gandhi fights for freedom it is acceptable “biological warfare”, but when Indian scientists study Nipah virus samples, it is anti-national “biological warfare” – because the work of scientists is inconvenient .
What Singh lacks is that Gandhi’s “experiences of truth”, as they were, were imbued with what Michel Foucault later called biopolitics – “a political rationality which takes as its subject the administration of life and populations ”(source). Science alone tells us nothing about Gandhi’s policy (he was also anti-vaccine, for example); we also need social science, but this is a subject the BJP has had little patience for.
There had been rumors that on this Independence Day, the country’s 75th, the Prime Minister would announce the (preordained) success of India’s first manned space flight mission from the summit of Red Fort, but the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to it. (Ahead of last year’s Independence Day, Indian Medical Research Council chief Balram Bhargava made a fool of himself by demanding that the phase 3 trials of Covaxin end in just two months, presumably for give Modi something to take on August 15.)
It looks like the newly demoted Department of Science and Technology (DST) is trying to do its part to help. From this week, the DST has planned 75 weeks of events, until August 15, 2022, in what it calls the “Aazaadi Ki Amrit Mahotsav” (“Mega-festival of independence nectar”). With the expected fixation on “75” and its insane derivatives (for example “750 popular science articles”, “7500 participants”), the “proposed plan” follows the usual model: announce the events of the big bang, force the participation of autonomous institutions, and make no effort to measure results. But it still looks good.
Here is the catch though:
Aside from “Ideas, Achievements and Resolution”, whatever that means, none of the proposed “themes” are scientific, let alone the first: the stature of India (or that of Bharat) as “Vishva Guru”. Is a lie. Even the point of celebrating unsung heroes deserves suspicion, as the government can dig up an obscure ideologue or sage and install him as the “real” originator of an old idea. And since “Independence 1.0” was our freedom from subjugation, “Independence 2.0” can only be a formal recognition of our independence from critical thinking.
Let’s stay calm and swallow the Modicine.