Fly Me to the Moon : Decoding ISRO Chair’s Tall Claims
by Aratrika

For the past twenty years, I have minutely searched the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, Shastras, astrology books, and ancient texts on science but have failed to trace any root of modern science to them.- Dr. Meghnad Saha

The above is an excerpt from ‘Adhunik Bijnan O Hindu Dhormo’ (Modern science and Hinduism), a text written by the pioneering Indian physicist Dr. Meghnad Saha, many decades ago. This stands in stark contrast to the kind of careless comments being made today by the Chairman of ISRO, S. Somanath where he publicly proclaims the Vedas to be the seed of all scientific knowledge that later got repackaged as Western ideas. A very dubious claim, as has been demonstrated by the likes of Meghnad Saha, JV Narlikar etc. Coming from the Chairman of ISRO of course adds to the claim the privilege of being considered true at face value. This comment must also be seen in conjunction with the scores of pseudoscientific claims that have been floating around since 2014. Be it Ganesh’s plastic surgery, in-vitro fertilisation of Kauravas, atom bombs aka Bramhastra, avatarvaad = Darwinism etc., members of the Sangh Parivar have never failed to find the origin of all these fruits of modern science in ancient Bramhinical texts. What sets the recent incident apart is that it comes straight from the horse’s mouth, the Chairman of ISRO- an institution that may easily be termed as the epitome of scientific and technological advancements in India today. Does it indicate the subversion of ISRO to Hindutva nationalism? Does it expose the chasm between scientific skills and scientific temper in India? Does it reveal a deeply rooted feudal culture under a neoliberal polish? Perhaps all of these.

The whole nation saw how the success of Chandrayaan 3 mission was given a nationalistic spin by the PM making it appear as if the success was due more due to his excellent statesmanship rather than the tireless efforts of the hundreds of science labourers involved. Live stream of His Majesty’s reactions almost made it feel like an early start to Lok Sabha election campaigns for the Bharatiya Janata Party; of course that was the intended effect. All these are unmistakable signs of fascism. Since 2014, there have been consistent efforts to install stooges of the RSS in all higher positions in government institutes. They not just blindly follow government orders but also disseminate the Hindutva ideology of RSS at their capacities as in-charges of the institutes. S. Somanath clearly belongs to this category. The technological success accompanied by championing Hindutva ideals through speeches, temple visits, coconut breaking etc. effectively divert popular attention from deeper structural issues. As the nation went euphoric at the success of the mission, it was also exposed by independent media houses that many engineers involved with the project were not paid salaries for over a year. The fact that the overall government expenditure towards both education and R&D is steadily decreasing, is conveniently brushed under the carpet. With the recent constitution of the National Research Fund aimed at centralising both research funding and research topics, darker days are coming for the Indian academia.

In this prevailing system of education, science anyway is taught as a skill rather than a way to develop a comprehensive world outlook. Every year the nation produces hundreds of science graduates, engineers, PhD holders etc. like coins out of a mint. Still, when it comes to creating a society that upholds rationalism and scientific temper, the country is woefully backward. Narendra Dabholkar for example, was assassinated by saffron goons for being vocal against andhshraddha prevalent in the Hindu society. Even the Indian football team consults astrologers to select players for a match rather than assessing their form or skill. The recently introduced National Education Policy 2020 speaks in length about the Sanskrit Knowledge Systems(SKS), basically a euphemism for Bramhinical texts that apparently is filled with mathematical, physical, chemical, and astronomical knowledge. It also upholds the notions of dharma and karma that form the ideological basis of chaturvarna vyavastha (four-fold hierarchy forming the basis of Bramhinic order). In a recent bizarre incident, a Bangalore-based educator and Dalit activist named Hulikunte Murthy had to face online trolling and departmental inquiries for mocking the ISRO scientists’ decision to take a miniature version of the shuttle to Tirupati temple seeking the ‘blessings’ of Lord Tirupati. It is almost as if there is an institutionalised multi-pronged attack on scientific temper. Perhaps only a political revolution followed by hundreds of cultural revolutions will result in a society where this chasm may be bridged.

Coming to the third question raised above, can Somanath’s remark be connected to the base of this society? Is it a superstructural manifestation of the fact that the country never could get rid of its strong feudal fetters? On one hand missions are being launched to the sun, moon, Mars etc., on the other hand, lakhs of Dalit landless labourers continue to toil in fields, clean human waste without the basic protective gears, and skin dead animals (mostly GouMatas). In essence, the country is a walking, talking oxymoron belonging to the neoliberal Hindutva phylum. Recent reports also suggest a sinister imperialist agenda behind this renewed space race. Elements like Helium 3, Yttrium, Scandium, Lanthanides etc. that are rare on the earth have been discovered abundantly on the moon. These elements have the potential of advancing use of nuclear fusion reactors as well as modern electronic devices. With the drying up of fossil fuel reserves, imperialists trying to tackle the irreconcilable crises of capitalism in this neoliberal phase are targeting the moon as their next Niyamgiri.  

One has to again go back to Dr. Meghnad Saha for inspiration in such difficult times. Besides being a rationalist, he also championed the need for democratisation of academic spaces where hundreds of thoughts can contend leading to an integration of the social and physical sciences, something Marx describes as, "Natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science." He was also tremendously impressed by the gigantic strides in science made by the USSR, hoping that India would be walking the same path in the future. As the society passes through a fascist rule, it has become the duty of all conscious, democratic elements to join the struggle against forces that push the nation intellectually back by centuries.

Fly Me to the Moon