As a person with a master’s degree in physics, as one of the senior-most leaders in the government and as the country’s Union home minister, Rajnath Singh could have chosen a more salutary topic to discuss at the convocation of Lucknow University. But the home minister chose to dwell on how we should not turn to western studies on eclipses but consult our neighbourhood astrologer who with the aid of a ‘panchang’ could inform us of eclipses past and present for a 100-year period. And he does not stop here. He asked the students to shun the ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ culture and instead touch the feet of parents and elders.
Knowledge without values is creating many problems, among them a tendency to terrorism, according to Mr Singh. We are by now used to the extreme Right-wing fringes coming up with the glories of ancient Indian science and knowledge. No doubt, there is much in our past that revealed advanced thought and learning. But, science, as with all subjects, has to move forward. The West, whether we like it or not, has a huge lead in scientific advances and knowledge. And we should attempt to get our students to benefit from this rather than shun it. We cannot have a situation where our students are encouraged to stay trapped in the past relying on ancient knowledge when they have to compete for higher education and jobs in the here and now.
The home minister, given his academic qualifications, could surely have discussed future prospects for the students without taking an anti-West stand favoured by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. The PM has talked ever so often of a forward-looking vision for India in all fields. But if Mr Singh is going to make needlessly controversial remarks about astrologers, it undermines the mission to project India as a country on the fast track to progress and modernity.
If India were so advanced in knowledge from the days of yore, it stands to reason that we should be far ahead of most developed countries by now. We are not. So, let us be realistic and imbibe the best of the West in areas where we find we are lagging behind. And the scientific arena is certainly one of those.