A botanist who was to present a paper pitching Lord Shiva as the world’s greatest environmentalist failed to turn up at the 103rd Indian Science Congress on Wednesday with the event expected to court controversies after the previous edition threw up claims that aircraft existed in ancient India.
The selection of Dr Akhilesh Pandey’s paper for the environmental sciences segment triggered a massive controversy on social media with many accusing the organisers as well as the hosts at the University of Mysore of promoting a non-scientific subject in pursuit of a “larger political agenda”.
“My absence had nothing to do with the controversy. I injured my leg and that’s why I couldn’t come,” said Pandey who is a PhD in botany and has several awards and citations to his name. “So what if my paper has nothing to do with science. What is science? Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s science. Fiction is the mother of invention.”
He argued that one of the objectives of his paper is to promote environmental conservation.
“All the things in science we are talking about today are all in the Vedas and the Puranas. If somebody doesn’t believe me, they have to validate their position scientifically,” he told HT over the phone from Bhopal.
“Don’t we all worship Shiva? Why then can’t we follow his path? Whether it is environmental conservation or anything else, society can’t be governed by rules alone. We need religion to show us the way.”
The controversy comes against the backdrop of a similar row last year, when a paper presented at the Congress held in Mumbai drew sharp reactions from the scientific community after it claimed an ancient Indian sage had given detailed guidelines for making an aircraft, long before Wright brothers.
The president of the environmental sciences segment, Dr Gangadhar Mishra, earlier strongly defended his choice of Dr Pandey’s paper.
“Nobody can ask me why I selected this paper. We received 380 applications and selection is my prerogative,” he said, adding that he was solely responsible for the pick.
Asked if this was the one of the best among the paper proposals received from across the country, he said, “Absolutely.” He also said that he hadn’t gone through all the proposals and had sought help of his peers from across the country to arrive at the final shortlist.
Accusing the media of “making a mountain out of a molehill”, Mishra said, “Whether there is science or not in the paper can be challenged when the speaker presents it.”
The two-page abstract of Dr Pandey’s paper starts with the claim that Shiva was the world’s greatest environmentalist, but does not provide much information to support the assertion.
Instead, it goes to great lengths to explain things such as why the Hindu god is depicted with water spouting from his hair or why he sits on a tiger skin mat.
The vice-chancellor of the university, KS Rangappa, distanced himself from the controversy and said that the institution only provided logistical support.
“I had absolutely no role in the selection of papers in the environmental science segment,” he said.