Indian Science Congress: Murder of an Institution
by Aratrika

Ever since the RSS-BJP came into power at the central government with Narendra Modi as the face, every year the Indian Science Congress would make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This year again it has made the headlines, but for a completely different kind of reason. The central government has finally decided to stop funding the annual event citing a host of reasons. Before we go into the current status of the Congress or the merit of the dismissal, a few words need to be said about its rich legacy.

Since its inception in 1914, the sessions organised by the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) have been held every year, except the time the pandemic was raging. In whatever form modern science has developed on Indian soil, the Congresses have had a part to play in those. The ISCA was the brainchild of two British academics serving in India — Prof PS MacMahon of Canning College, Lucknow, and Prof JL Simonsen of Presidency College, Madras. It was modelled on the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Congress was aimed to provide a platform for discussion on the latest developments in pure and applied sciences as well as on the connection between science and society. Since then hundreds of scientists have been associated with it across the nation. Post-independence it has always been the prime minister who has inaugurated this Congress giving it a unique character. Many times, it has been the platform from which related policies have been declared by the prime ministers as well.

The post-2014 situation demands special attention. The RSS-BJP has practically declared war against all rational and progressive voices and practices prevalent in this nation through political coercion, threats, and even death. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh were rationalists assassinated by Hindutva goons for their staunch critique of the ideals of Hindutva that feed off of pseudoscientific practices prevalent in the society. The centuries old fight against the proponents of pseudoscience who use it as a tool to preserve their hegemony thus continues. Thanks to this saffron regime in power right now, the Indian Science Congress too has become a playground for absolute mockery of science in the past few years. The situation worsened to the point that it was being deemed as a ‘circus’ by respected members of the scientific community.

In such a scenario, the Indian Science Congress Association required a complete overhaul to bring back its glory and relevance. Rather than putting the effort to restore its glory days, the Department of Science and Technology that provides the funding for the Congress, has declared stoppage of funding for this event till it ‘mends its ways’. One may wonder, what ways are to be mended. To clarify this the DST has brought charges of “financial irregularities” and a “unilateral decision” by a few ISCA office bearers, without government approval, to shift the venue of the 2024 session from Lucknow University to Lovely Professional University at Jalandhar as the reasons for discontinuing funding for the Congress indefinitely. Expectedly, the recent instances of spreading pseudoscientific claims from the stage of the Congress never got cited as a reason. The allotted fund of Rs. 5 crores was thus summarily dismissed.

The venue for the 2024 Indian Science Congress was initially decided to be Lucknow university. Upon cancellation of funds, Lovely Professional University (LPU) agreed to host the event. At the last minute, even LPU backed off leaving the organisers in a limbo. ISCA President Arvind Saxena informed that the association had decided to post an appeal on its website inviting universities to host the event possibly in February. Basically, the whole Congress has been relegated to the mercy of the future as of now. It can very well be concluded that the century old Indian Science Congress joins Vigyan Prasar, and a host of science awards, in the dustbin. The matter of course did not end here, the DST rather channelled funds into promoting another science meet called Indian International Science Festival, an annual science festival organised by the Vijnana Bharati- the science wing of the RSS. This is a clear subversion of the scientific temper and secular values a body like DST is supposed to uphold. At this IISF organised in Delhi last month, the Surya Tilak instrument parched upon a miniature model of the Ram Mandir  meant to project sunlight on the Ram Lalla idol jointly made by central research institutes like the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and Central Building Research Institute, was one of the biggest attractions.

Whatever be the recent track record of the Indian Science Congress, disposing of it indefinitely is an outright attack on science. Diversion of the same funds towards a saffron project under the garb of science, paints the picture of an even darker future. Fascist forces always try to capture every possible institution at their disposal to the fullest extent possible. If and when this exercise faces an obstacle, the institution gets bulldozed. Pseudoscience has always been a tool to dampen dissent in a society, a tool that fascists through history have used expertly. With the rise of Vijnana Bharati, the saffron regime has strengthened another medium to carry out pseudoscientific propaganda.


AISA Condemns the Involvement of Central Research Institutes in Ram Mandir Construction

Statement | All India Students’ Association strongly condemns the use of central government research institutes like Indian Institute of Astrophysics(IIA) and Central Building Research Institute(CBRI) to construct a contraption for the upcoming Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Such research institutes of national importance that are run on tax-payers’ money are supposed to uphold the ethos of secularism in keeping with scientific temperament and constitutional values. The use of political pressure to rally them on a project that is principally political and secondarily religious, by the current saffron regime, is a matter of grave concern.

With the media blitzkrieg being orchestrated right now, the fact that the Ram Janmabhoomi andolan of ‘92 shook the entire country leaving a trail of blood with the 500-year old Babri Masjid demolished by the Sangh at the centre, has been effectively pushed into oblivion. Post Babri demolition, a meteoric rise of the BJP has been observed in Indian polity. This year, the election campaign for the BJP starts early with the Ram Mandir consecration being carried out on 22nd January.

In such a situation it is utterly condemnable that the IIA and CBRI agreed to provide the design and construct the optico-mechanical contraption respectively, to project sunlight on the idol’s forehead on every Ram Navami for 3-4 minutes, at the behest of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. The contraption donated by OPTICA, a private company, costs Rs. 84 lakhs. At a time when the research fraternity is reeling under fund cuts, closing of Vigyan Prasar, slashing of science awards etc. it is unthinkable that the central government institutes agreed to divert precious human labour towards this fascist project. With the introduction of the National Research Fund meant to regulate funding processes as well as research projects that may get public/private funds, incidents of such nature will become more common.

In this scenario, not only science students, researchers, and academics, but every progressive and democratic individual should unitedly speak out against the subversion of research institutes to the Hindutva ideology.

Indian Science Congress: Murder of an Institution