'We are moving away from the path of democracy and towards Hindu religious dictatorship,' scientist P M Bhargava, who plans to return his Padma Bhushan to the government next week, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com
Renowned scientist Pushpa Mittra Bhargava has joined the writers and filmmakers who have decided to renounce their awards in protest against what they call the prevailing mood of intolerance in the country.
Stating that intolerance and hatred are spreading under National Democratic Alliance rule in which the climate in the country was of "very strong fear" and "against rationality, against reason and against scientific temper," the scientist, who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, announced his intention to return his Padma Bhushan to the government next week.
'I have decided to return the award. The reason is that the present government is moving away from the path of democracy, and moving towards the path of making the country Hindu religious autocracy just like Pakistan. This is not acceptable... something I find unacceptable,' Press Trust of India quoted the 87-year-old scientist as saying.
On Tuesday, October 27, a group of scientists had petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee voicing concern over incidents of intolerance, including the killing of Kannada writer Professor M M Kalburgi, and urged him to initiate 'suitable actions.'
"We are moving away from the path of democracy and moving towards Hindu religious dictatorship," Dr Bhargava, image, left, told Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com on the telephone.
By deciding to return the Padma Bhushan, have you joined the protesting artists, filmmakers etc?
I have not joined them. This is my personal decision and an independent decision. They have taken their decision and I have taken mine.
You mentioned that the Constitution states that scientific temper needs to be promoted in Indian society. Has there been a departure from it, you feel?
You see, Article 51 A (h) of our Constitution states it is the Fundamental Right of every citizen to develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform. That is a Constitutional requirement. But the government is the biggest culprit by going against scientific temper. They are intolerant.
Among all the governments till date, this government is least committed to scientific temper. Other governments have also not been committed to scientific temper, but not to the extent of this government.
Last year Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that India had mastered the technique of organ transplants a long time ago. (At the inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, Modi said, 'We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant's head fixed on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.')
Exactly, that was a totally non-scientific temper statement. That is one of the reasons for me to return the Padma Bhushan.
That statement was made almost a year ago, so why are you returning your Padma Bhushan now?
At different times different statements he has made. All of these add up for me.
But you cannot deny that India is a very religious country and if the prime minister believes in what he said, what is wrong?
If the prime minister believes in such things, it is terribly wrong. One does not expect the prime minister of India to believe in such nonsense (of plastic surgery in ancient India).
Do you feel the Modi government is moving away from scientific temper and towards a more religious temperament?
We are moving away from the path of democracy and towards Hindu religious dictatorship.
You have also been critical of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members attending a meeting of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
I am very critical of the RSS. I think organisations like the RSS must be banned. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is the political front of the RSS.
Why can't the RSS attend CSIR meetings?
Why should RSS members, who have nothing to do with laboratories, attend the meeting of directors of laboratories? Several RSS people were present, but why should they be there?
What is wrong in having a dialogue with the RSS on scientific matters?
You cannot have a dialogue with the RSS. You can have a dialogue with organisations where they reflect their mark of overlap. In RSS there is no overlap at all.
By saying this, the message that goes out is that you are against the RSS and BJP politically, which is why you are returning the award.
Politically, my ideology is absolutely against the RSS and BJP's ideology.
So can one say that your decision is politically motivated?
What can be the political motive? I don't agree with their viewpoint.
Is it true that the government has reduced the funding for CSIR labs?
They have reduced it by 50 percent. They don't understand the ABCD of science.
Are you saying this of the Modi government?
Absolutely. The Modi government does not understand the ABCD of science.
There has been a lot of criticism that the Modi government is being fascist, yet you are now speaking freely, isn't it?
No, they are not allowing (people to speak). Tell me, which minister criticises the prime minister?
But then, during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government also, which minister criticised Sonia and Rahul Gandhi?
No, not to that extent. If I criticised Sonia Gandhi, nothing would happen to me, but if I criticise Modi I am afraid I will be put in jail.
Look at what they have done to Greenpeace, Teesta Setalvad or Hardik Patel.
But the fact is you are criticising the government, writers have criticised it, yet nobody has been put in jail.
Not them, but others have been penalised, I have given you the examples of Teesta Setalvad, Greenpeace and Hardik Patel.
In case of Teesta and Greenpeace they were accused of misusing foreign funds.
You can make these kinds of allegations against anybody.
You also said India will become like Pakistan if this kind of intolerance continues.
Absolutely, today non-Hindus are second-class citizens of India. Muslims and Christians feel like second-class citizens.
All the attacks against rationalists occurred in non-BJP ruled states, so why are you blaming the BJP and Modi for it?
It is a question of climate. The climate in the country is such that people feel that way.
What must Prime Minister Modi do to win back the confidence of people like you?
A lot needs to be done.