Historians, scientists join chorus against ‘vitiated atmosphere’

Eminent scientist and Bharat Ratna awardee CNR Rao threw his weight behind a list of writers, artists and scientists protesting growing intolerance in India as more than 50 historians spoke out on Thursday against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s so-called silence on the “highly vitiated atmosphere” in the country.

The historians joined the chorus of protest after acclaimed microbiologist PM Bhargava decided to return his Padma Bhushan and sought a ban on the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor.

“It’s a general feeling among the people that there is growing intolerance in society. It’s not only about the scientific community but many intelligent people have protested … There are authors, historians,” Rao, former scientific advisor to the prime minister, told HT on the phone from Bengaluru.

More than 100 distinguished scientists have denounced what they perceive as a climate of intolerance in India in the wake of the killing of rationalist leaders and the brutal lynching of a Muslim blacksmith in Uttar Pradesh over mere rumours of beef consumption.

After leading writers, film-makers and scientists, 53 leading historians — including Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and Mridula Mukherjee – came out strongly against Modi for not making any reassuring statement on the issue.

“Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets,” they said in a joint statement, referring to the Dadri lynching and the murder of rationalists Prof MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

“When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest,” the statement said.

“And when it is hoped that the head of government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the head of the state to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice.”

The statement came after microbiologist Bhargava, founder of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, decided to return his Padma Bhushan.

“The RSS should be banned for fanning a sense of fear among minorities and Dalits. The BJP is a political front of the RSS… the master is the RSS. There was a CSIR meeting wherein RSS people attended it. This never happened in the history of CSIR. I will return the award (Padma Bhushan) next week,” the 87-year-old scientist said.

The recipient of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, asked the NDA government to not let “religious dictatorship” enter politics and accused the RSS and other Hindu radical organisations of attempting to rewrite history to suit their “dangerous design”.

“The Modi government should do what it has promised. He is not keeping his promises … At the moment it seems the RSS is running the government and not Mr Modi.”

Meanwhile, finance Minister Arun Jaitley called those returning their awards “rabid anti-BJP elements.” “Those returning awards are playing politics by other means. Follow their tweets and their stances on various social and political issues. You will find a lot of rabid anti-BJP elements in them,” Jaitley told reporters in Patna.

Home minister Rajnath Singh also came down on writers and some prominent persons returning their Padma and Sahitya Akademi awards terming it as a political conspiracy and wondered what these people were doing when there were communal riots during Congress rule.

“Congress government was in power in India for a long time. In several states, communal riots had taken place then. 4000-5000 people have died even in a single state. No one gave their resignations at that time. Why is it happening now is beyond our understanding,” he said.

The home minister said he could say with certainty that this (returning of awards) is happening because of political reasons.


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