Are our ministers having fun at our expense?
Any other explanation would suggest 'we are ruled by men whose judgement you cannot trust and whose grasp of reality is questionable,' says Karan Thapar.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Do Bharatiya Janata Party ministers have a sense of humour the rest of us can't understand or don't share?
This is not a rhetorical question. It is quite possibly the only polite explanation for some of the preposterous claims they have recently made. I'm talking both of ministers at the Centre and in the states.
Indeed, I'm also referring to the prime minister. He might even have started this trend.
Last month, the Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb claimed the Internet was an Indian invention.
'India has been using the Internet for several lakh years,' Deb said. 'In the Mahabharata, Sanjay narrated to Dhritarashtra, who was blind, about what was happening in the battlefield due to the Internet and technology. Satellites too existed during that period.'
Judging by the television footage he wasn't smiling or laughing. But then some of the best jokes are told with a straight face.
Earlier this year, in January, Rajasthan's Education Minister Vasudev Devnani claimed that the law of gravity was discovered by Brahmagupta-II a thousand years before Isaac Newton.
Last year, he claimed that cows were the only animals to exhale oxygen, proximity to them could cure coughs and colds whilst cow dung was protection against radioactivity.
Some of these statements were made at the Foundation Day celebrations of the University of Rajasthan. Could he have been having fun at the expense of the students?
Just days later, Satyapal Singh, the Union minister of state for human resource development, claimed that 'Darwin's Theory is 'scientifically wrong; nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man.'
Even though he was admonished by his senior minister, angrily refuted by the country's science academies and mocked by social media, Singh stuck to his claim.
Which leads me to ask: Was he serious or was he trying to make a fool of us?
Sometimes when a joke goes wrong you can persist rather than give up. Is that what happened in this case?
However, my best reason for believing these gentlemen were pulling our legs comes from none other than the prime minister.
Way back in October 2014, at the inauguration of the Reliance Hospital in Mumbai, Modi said the fact Karna was born from his mother's ear is proof that India in the Mahabharata had mastered genetic science whilst the fact Ganesha has an elephant head is proof there were plastic surgeons in his time.
He said all this with a straight face and no one in the audience blanched so, perhaps, they realised he was just having fun.
The problem is what if these weren't elaborate jokes? What then should we make of such claims?
They are not just delusional but, more worryingly, irrational. Let me explain why.
First, it is not rational to use mythology as the basis for claiming scientific achievements.
There is no proof other than the assumption the myth is true and that is 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?
No doubt many Hindus share Messrs Modi, Deb and Devnani's faith in the veracity of mythology. As individuals they are free to believe what they want. But for ministers of state and central governments to claim this is fact raises deeply disturbing questions.
The most fundamental is: Are we ruled by rational men?
And, surely, rationality is one of the most important qualities we expect of them? We may not always agree with what they say or do, but we assume their thoughts and actions are rational, well-considered and credible.
In other words, even if their decisions turn out to be wrong -- and they often are -- they won't offend against commonsense.
It is this critical assumption of rationality that would be shattered if it turns out our ministers weren't making a joke or having fun at our expense.
And that is why this is the only polite explanation for what they have publicly said.
Any other would suggest we are ruled by men whose judgement you cannot trust and whose grasp of reality is questionable.
And that's putting it mildly!