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Snapshot
  • How the Leftists corrupted and debased “scientific thinking” in India, for political motives, and why we should remember Deendayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy. The second part of our series on science and Hindutva.

SEPTEMBER 21, 1995 saw a mass religious phenomenon across India. Kiran Bedi, then an IPS officer, offered milk to the statues of Hindu-Buddhist deities in her house and they all accepted the milk. “The milk just disappeared into thin air,” she stated. Vishnu Hari Dalmia, then president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), called it a “divine miracle”. Some Congress leaders like Vasant Sathe charged the Sangh Parivar for starting a fake miracle “to exploit religious feelings for political ends”. Gopinath Munde, then Deputy Chief Minister of the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, declared unequivocally that neither his government nor he believed this milk drinking by idols to be possible. Even more remarkable was the statement by a BJP leader often caricatured as a saffron villain rooted in Hindutva. Dr Murali Manohar Joshi, a quali- fied nuclear physicist, declared: “As a physicist, I have to conclude that it’s due to capillary action and surface tension. Nothing more.”

Science and the spirit of science have always been a stick used to beat the Hindutvaites by the left-wing academic establishment. When three years after the milk miracle, Dr Joshi became the Human Resources Minister, he was attacked day in and out by Leftists of all kinds—politicians, academics and media—for the purported saffronisation which they alleged was entirely against “the scientific temper” which was made one of the fundamental duties of Indian citizens in the Constitution of India during the Emergency through a constitutional amendment. Though Bertrand Russell used the term “scientific temper” decades before Nehru and John Dewey underlined its importance, in the socialist establishment of India, Nehru is credited with the coining of the term.

Since then the socialist establishment line has been that the saffron obscurantists are trying to impede scientific temper by bringing in religious mumbo-jumbo.

Nehruvian establishment academics like historian Irfan Habib and molecular biologist Pushpa Bhargava have been at the forefront of this decades-long campaign. And they are also winning the propaganda war in that they have created an impression that NDA-BJP governments have always acted against the nation’s scientific progress, while Nehruvian socialism has been a progressive people-science movement transforming superstitious India into a heaven vibrant with “scientific temper”.

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“SCIENTIFIC TEMPER” AS PROPAGANDA: MOSE

Use of popular science programmes as a vehicle for unabashed Marxist propaganda, even using the tax payer’s money, has been a hallmark of the Left. A good case in point is the Method of Science Exhibition (MOSE) conceived by physicist-educationist Rais Ahmed, given shape by eminent molecular biologist P.M. Bhargava, financed by NCERT and blessed by Prof Nurul Hasan who was Education Minister in Indira Gandhi”s Cabinet (1971-77). The project came into being in 1975 during the nearest approximation of Fascist rule India has ever experienced—the Emergency. The exhibition was a liberal mix of creatively designed panels, clever propaganda and Indira sycophancy. MOSE ends with quotes from no scientist or philosopher of science but from Indira Gandhi, the then bud- ding dictator: “We want scientific thinking to destroy superstition which has darkened our lives.”

Later, Prof Bhargava, writing about the exhibition designers losing favour with the Janata government, accused the new government of “having a hidden Hindutva agenda”. Articles attacking Morarji Desai, the then Janata Prime Minister, started appearing even in international scientific magazines. For example, Science, in its issue dated 27 April, 1979, quoted “an Indian scientist in this country (USA)”: “You know that our Prime Minister drinks urine,” and the Science reporter commented that the practice was “in line with homeopathic and naturopathic remedies”.

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A study of the panels in the exhibition reveal that MOSE was more interested in presenting Marxism as a way of science than presenting a real introduction to the method of science. The exhibition has a section titled “21 Landmarks in the History of the Method of Science and its Applications”. These 21 panels are presented with a very clever caveat: “What is presented here is not a display of landmarks in the history of science but landmarks in the history of the method of science.”

MOSE was conceived in 1975. Thomas Kuhn had published his landmark The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (See #MustRead in this issue) in 1962. Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery had appeared in English in 1959. Yet one finds no mention of these milestones in the method of science in this exhibition. Instead, it has panels on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and Lenin. In 1980, MOSE was serialised in thenow defunct popular science magazine Science Today. The issue dated May 1980 carried all the illustrations related to the “21 Landmarks”. A look at the way Darwin and Marx are depicted in this section provides a treatment in contrast.

The Marx panel has the cover of Das Kapital as well as a portrait of Karl Marx. The adoring text speaks of “first application of method of science to an integrated analysis of social, political and economic problems”, leading to the “formulation of the first science-based socio- politico-economic theory”. In contrast, neither Darwin’s face nor the cover of The Origin of Species gets any space from the conceptualisers of the panels. In the associated text, even the key Darwinian discovery—the process of natural selection—crucial to the theory of evolution, which transformed the whole spectrum of biological sciences, goes unmentioned. Clearly, in the alternative narrative of science that Dr Bhargava and Dr Ahmed, woven with tax payers’ money, Marx and Lenin had contributed more to “the method of science”, and hence deserve a better display than Darwin!

The unkindest cut of all comes from the panel on John Desmond Bernal (1901-1971). Undoubtedly a brilliant physicist, he, along with an influential section of British scientists of the time, which included Julian Huxley and J.B.S. Haldane, was impressed by a Soviet tour so much that he wrote in his work The Social Function of Science (1939): “It is to Marxism that we owe the consciousness of the hitherto analysed driving force of scientific advance and it will be through the practical achievements of Marxism that this consciousness can become embodied in the organisation of science for the benefit of mankind.”

What distinguishes Bernal from other ini- tial admirers of Marxism in the scientist com- munity was his unflinching support for the Soviet charlatan Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko had rejected Mendelian genetics and spread pseudo- scientific theories with the political backing of Stalin. (Today, the term “Lysenkoism” is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ide- ological bias, and to serve political objectives.) In the face of all evidence, Bernal maintained his stand on the ground that Lysenko under Stalin was pursuing a proletarian science and purging bourgeois science:

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“In the past, there has been one science. Because modern science was part of the origin and development of capitalism, it was necessarily the production of bourgeois thinkers and steeped in bourgeois ideology. It is only now in the Soviet Union with the new generation of scientific workers that it is possible to build a socialist science.”

All that the MOSE panel makers had to do was to contrast this with the attitude of J.B.S. Haldane, who too was a Marxist. Yet Haldane stood by science and not his political ideology. When the Marxist state unleashed an inquisition against the geneticists in the Soviet Union, he allowed his party membership to lapse and then moved to India.

Haldane actually presents a golden opportunity to explain the method of science, both in the Indian context and in general. When Mendelian genetics emerged, Darwinian evolution needed an open-ended synthesis with the new science. This marriage of modern genetics with Darwinian evolution is a remarkable feat that shows that science is open to changing and evolving as a body of knowledge (In fact, this is a defining characteristic of honest science). This marriage was achieved by a brilliant team of scientists which included, along with R.A. Fisher and S G. Wright, the polymath Haldane. The approaches of Bernal and Haldane to Lysenko-Marxist scandal in science is a classic example that could have conveyed to all viewers how one should not allow personal political and ideological beliefs to interfere with the method of science.

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Even the adulation given to Bernal in MOSE that he made “the first statement of the intimate relationship between science and society” is incorrect. Five years before Bernal, in 1934, Julian Huxley had written “Scientific Research and Social Needs”, where he saw science as a social activity which itself demands scientific study. In later years, following the Lysenko episode, Huxley too became critical of Marx- ism. So for the designers of MOSE, rooted in Marxist ideology, it was Bernal, the winner of 1953 Stalin Peace Prize, who better represented a milestone in the history of the method of science than Haldane or Huxley. The insistence on the name of Haldane is not incidental. The scientist ,with an abiding interest in the social dimension of science, chose the method of science over ideological affinity. He spent his last years in India and contributed significantly in creating an Indic approach to science.

HALDANE’S SCIENTIFIC APPROACH TO INDIAN SOCIETY AND INDIC SCIENCE

In a lecture Haldane delivered in Nehruvian India, he criticised certain dominant traits he found in the Indian science community. He said: “The old caste system had this merit, that the richest merchant or zamindar could not buy the status of Brahmin for his son, even if the son was learned and pious. Whatever the defects of that system—and I think that they were and are grievous—it was not subservient to wealth. The new caste system which the university ad- ministrative authorities, with the connivance of many government officials, are trying with some success to impose upon India, has no such excuse. I hope that steps may be taken to break it before it exercises the same paralytic effect on India as the old one did in the past.”

This was a strong critique of how science establishments were developing under the Nehruvian socialist Raj by an admirer of socialism and even the Mahalanobis five-year plan. Haldane had earlier in his Marxist days called the Hindu caste system “the greatest glorification of snobbery that the world has ever known”. It was essentially a colonial and superficial view of caste by a British Marxist, which almost all English-educated “progressive” Indian elites agreed with. After he came in close contact with Indian society, he clearly changed his view to a holistic understanding of the system.

Haldane delivered the 1956 Huxley lecture in which, for his “classification of human cultural features”, he used “Hindu classification rather than a modern European or American”. This, he said, was because modern anthropology was “a by-product of colonialism...given by persons almost all of European origin of the behaviour of members of other cultural groups over which they exerted dominance, largely through the greater efficiency of their weapons”. He pointed out that colonialism lasted for only about “four centuries”. Interestingly, the lapsed Marxist, still with some sympathy for Marxism, ob- served with remarkable clarity that modern anthropology, which was “not yet 40 years old”, still had in “some of its tenets...a by-product of colonialism”.

So though he was convinced that Hindu anthropology based on caste was coming to an end, he preferred to employ the terminology of what he called “respectable antiquity”. Interestingly, he used the terms from Cultural Anthropology by Prof Nirmal Kumar Bose, which shows that as early as the 1950s, a generation of Indian scholars had started using Indic tools in the social sciences, which would be later uprooted by Marxist capture of academic institutions. Interestingly, Haldane knew that an Indic framework would “annoy not only British and Soviet anthropologists, but the majority of Indian ones, who may very reasonably object to a terminology associated with ideas which are a hindrance to progress in India”. Yet he decided to use the Hindu framework for his exploration of human cultural phenomena. The quote is worth reproducing in full:

“According to the Hindu classics, human desires can be classified according as they are concerned with artha, economic needs, kama, reproductive needs, and moksha, the need for emancipation from these other needs. Perhaps there is also a dharma concerned with beauty, sundara. A culture is characterised by various dharmas which satisfy these needs to a greater or less extent. Each dharma acts through five agencies, vastu or material object, kriya or habitual action, samhati or social grouping, vicharamulaka tattwa, namely ‘knowledge based on experience and subject to criticism’, and viswasamulaka tattwa or knowledge based on faith. These interact with the svadharma of each individual, which, to some extent, corresponds with our notion of genotype. I do not of course suggest that this is the only Hindu classification. Some authors would deny the existence of a kamadharma. Anthropologists study all five of these agencies, and it is clear that the differences between them in different cultures are due mainly to differences of tradition, rather than of biological heredity. A human being brought up in one culture can adopt the traditions of another, though with some difficulty. Perhaps the change is easiest for those who have most nearly achieved moksha, to whom the dharma of one culture appears as devoid of absolute value as that of another. Such a person is unlikely to wear a dhoti, a kilt, or a pair of trousers with full elegance, but may be prepared to wear any of them.”

Unfortunately, such an Indic framework for the social sciences never emerged. Leftist entrenchment and control of social science institutions effectively arrested any significant further movement in this direction. Worse, Indic social and cultural phenomena were subdued to Western frameworks like those of Freud and Marx. The only person who tried to bring in the terminology and framework that Haldane talked about into modern political thinking was Deendayal Upadhyaya (1916-1968).

INTEGRAL HUMANISM: CONTINUING THE LEGACY OF HALDANE

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya first presented the outline of the political philosophy “Integral Humanism” in a series of four lectures delivered at Mumbai in 1965. It was later adapted as the guiding principle of the BJP. Here he called for a need to have a “scientific and pragmatic” approach to the problems facing Indian society rather than “parrot-like repetition of Marx- ism”. And he elaborated the scientific approach to the problem:

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“The scientists always attempt to discover order in the apparent disorder in the universe, to find out the principles governing the uni- verse and frame practical rules on the basis of these principles...Philosophers are also basically scientists.”

He stated that the Indic philosophical ap- proach was based on “the unity of all life”. After pointing out the dualist approach inherent in Western philosophical model, in a remarkable anticipation of modern ecological thoughts, Upadhyaya said:

“Even the dualists have believed the nature and spirit to be complementary to each other rather than conflicting. The diversity in life is merely an expression of the internal unity. There is complementary underlying the diversity...The recognition of this element of mutual sustenance among different forms of life and taking that as the basis of an effort to make human life mutually sustaining is the prime characteristic of civilisation.”

Then he explores the same Indic framework which Haldane had detailed in his Huxley lecture nine years before: “We have thought of life as Integrated not only in the case of collective or social life but also in the individual life...Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are the four kinds of human effort. Purushartha means efforts which befit a man. The longings for Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are in- born in man, and satisfaction of these four efforts too, we have thought in an integrated way. Even though Moksha has been considered the highest of these purusharthas, efforts for Moksha alone are not considered to give benefit to the soul. On the other hand, a person who en- gages in action, while remaining unattached to its fruits, is said to achieve Moksha inevitably and earlier. Artha includes what is known as political and economic policies. According to the ancients, it used to include justice and punishment also. Kama relates to the satisfaction of various natural desires. Dharma defines a set of rules to regulate the social activity. Artha and Kama, so as to progress in an integral and harmonious way, and attain not only Kama and Artha but also Moksha eventually.”

Thus in the social sciences, the Hindutva movement had made an important contribution in carrying forward the scientific adaption of the Indic framework which was initiated by polymath Haldane.

However, the subsequent Leftist stranglehold on academic institutions almost made it impossible for making this a dominant academic pursuit to alleviate human suffering and deal with the problems of Indian society, and a holistic understanding of Indian culture. So what we have here is a classic case of those who made “scientific temper” a political slogan, derailing the scientific pursuit for evolving an Indic framework for the social sciences.

EVOLVING PRINCIPLES: FROM PHYSICS TO SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY

The use of the term “complementary” by Upad- hyaya is interesting. He speaks of seemingly contradictory philosophical principles and natural phenomena as “complementary”. Physicist Niels Bohr had championed the principle of “complementarity” in the world of quantum phenomena. Indian physicist D.S. Kothari of- ten pointed out the parallels between Indian philosophical thought and the principle of complementarity. He was fond of two verses in the Gita, verses 61 and 83 of the 18th chapter. In a paper published in Defence Science Journal, exploring the reflections of Prof Kothari on the parallelism between epistemological foundations of modern physics and Indian philosophical thought, the authors write:

“On many occasions when a ‘scientist’ or an ‘engineer’ came to him and talked about logic and ‘science’ and superstitions in India, he would quote these (Gita chapter 18: verses 61 and 83) and leave the person to ponder. Serious individuals, by deeply thinking on these two, were led to an in-depth study of the Gita... Prof Kothari points out that the validity of the concept of complementarity is implicitly recognised in most philosophical systems of the east.”

More importantly, in his paper exploring the parallels between the complementarity principle and eastern philosophy, which was published in the centenary volume in honour of Niels Bohr, he presented the principle as applicable to the variety and diversity of human experiences:

“The Principle of Complementarity...is perhaps the most significant and revolutionary concept of modern physics. The complementary approach can enable people to see the seemingly irreconcilable points of view need not be contradictory. These, on deeper understanding, may be found to be complementary and mutually illuminating—the two opposing contradictory aspects being parts of a ‘totality’, seen from different perspectives. It allows the possibility of accommodating widely divergent human experiences into an underlying harmony, and bringing to light new social and ethical vistas for exploration and for alleviation of human suffering. Bohr fervently hoped that one day complementarity would be an integral part of everyone’s education and provide guidance in the problems and challenges of everyday life.”

It is interesting to note that as Kothari observed, what Bohr had hoped, the application of complementarity in human situation, was somehow done by Upadhyaya—in the context of developing his political philosophy of “Integral Humanism”.

Unfortunately, such integrated development of social sciences, from anthropology to educational psychology to political science and sociology, never took place in India, beyond such limited but important steps.

Even in the realm of the physical sciences, the saffron contribution has been highly constructive despite the bad press they have earned through the memes of Vedic aeroplanes. Beyond the “Vedic atom bomb” caricatures by Old Media, the contribution saffronites have made to the natural sciences is vital and yet highly underrated.

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