Dear PM Modi, Rajnath's claims about Heisenberg are bad for Vikaaaas

There they go again. The Modi sarkar is once again in the news for its eagerness to put ideology ahead of facts. This time around it is Home minister Rajnath Singh who made headlines on Sunday for claiming at an official government event that Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle was based on the Vedas.

This is, of course, mild stuff compared to PM Modi's own recent claims discerning advanced genetic techniques and plastic surgery in the great Hindu myths. And, unlike his prime minister and to his credit, Singh did cite a fairly respectable source: Physicist Fritjof Capra who is best known for his attempts to fuse mysticism and science in books such as the Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism.

Nor is this the first time that Rajnath has offered his pet theory. As Hartosh Bal pointed out in Open magazine back in 2013, he expounded at greater length on the subject at a BJP council meeting, where he once again cited Capra to claim: "Heisenberg learnt the Uncertainty Principle from the philosophy of Vedas of this country. Heisenberg came to India in 1929 and met Rabindranath Tagore."

Sounds almost intriguing, except, as Bal scathingly points out, "This does not add up to evidence, but would certainly have been of some interest in the context if Heisenberg had not already postulated the Uncertainty Principle in 1927, two years before that meeting with Tagore."

 Dear PM Modi, Rajnaths claims about Heisenberg are bad for Vikaaaas

Rajnath Singh and PM Modi in this file photo. AFP

Ah well. So the home minister did not fact-check his sources. That isn't a crime in itself if such remarks weren't part of an alarming pattern, and of a no less alarming policy intent.

Both Rajnath as UP Education Minister in 1991 and Murli Manohar Joshi as Union HRD minister in 1998 sought to include Vedic mathematics in the school curriculum -- though Joshi doubled down by throwing in astrology for good measure. In 2014, we have Smriti Irani readying to carry the torch of this dubiously 'swadeshi' educational agenda, starting with the syllabi for the 8th, 9th and 10th classes.

Indeed, she is reported to have already set up a committee which will study ancient literary works such as the Upanishads and the Vedas and identify suitable texts highlighting the Hindu contribution to science, mathematics and philosophy. According to media reports, officials have been asked to develop teaching material “encapsulating’’ the glories of the Hindu “golden age’’.

No doubt, knowledge of these same glories will be enhanced by her latest decision to force Kendriya Vidyalaya students of German to switch, without warning or leeway, to Sanskrit mid-course and mid-school year. A directive that is punitive and short-sighted given the continuing and rapid rise of Indian students who head to Germany for higher education. As Firstpost senior editor G Pramod Kumar points out:

In a globalised world of education and opportunities, this is a patently retrograde step. All over the world, kids are encouraged to learn foreign languages that will expand their future possibilities. For instance, there has been an increase of more than 26 percent of foreigners who took the Chinese Proficiency Test, China’s equivalent of TOEFL over the last few years. Thousands of students in the US and Western Europe are now learning Chinese to expand their opportunities to collaborate with and work in China, that too when it’s considered to be one of the most for non-native speakers. Similarly kids in the US learn Spanish and kids in China learn Hindi.

It isn't accidental that Rajnath's remarks were accompanied by an eloquent pitch for a Hindi-first policy in all government matters, claiming "Seventy-five per cent of the people in the country either speak or know Hindi." The Hindutva agenda is irremediably parochial even by national standards.

It is irrelevant whether one sniggers at such tenuous claims about science and language or espouses their cause. It matters little whether the study of Sanskrit is or can be valuable in 2014. All these can be freely debated in a society which believes that its people ought to be at liberty to choose from a marketplace of ideas. And certainly, unlike many others, there is no wrong in appointing a minister to promote (not impose) the study of Yoga, Ayurveda etc.

What is outrageous is the callousness of the Modi sarkar which is following the time-honoured socialist tradition of treating the nation's children as sheep to be brain-washed; their future prospects be damned. When cultural nationalism -- and of the narrowest Hindu-belt kind -- becomes compulsory curriculum, it moves straight into the realm of authoritarianism.

For all its talk of the 21st century, the Modi government is displaying a very old-fashioned and time-tested desire to turn education into a propaganda tool. A key characteristic of propaganda is, of course, the contempt it reserves for its audience -- who are sheep to be led, not citizens to be informed -- and for knowledge itself.

No nation can aspire for progress -- even of the "swadeshi" kind, as the RSS wants -- on the foundations of bad information. Perhaps our prime minister should remember that the next time he roars 'Vikaaaaaas' at the next public rally, or lets his cabinet ministers loose on our hapless children.

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Updated Date: Nov 17, 2014 14:42:12 IST