There is a bizarre discomfiture in the country when it comes to harking back to its rich ancient past when the nation, unlike its present form, existed as an idea as so brilliantly elucidated in our ancient texts. Its philosophy was world-appealing, attracting the best minds to come here and contemplate on the varied shades of knowledge and take it back too. India was a mathematical wonderland too, the ubiquitous number zero being an Indian contribution. Nevertheless, whenever that pristinely rich past is invoked, one faces wild allegations of him being ‘communal’. There exists a flourishing bandwagon of self-styled secularists, who are anything but secularists in the real sense, whose chief political enterprise it is to throw muck at anything that seems to them ‘Hinduist’ even as it reflects on the incredibly pluralist society that this land has been since times immemorial despite the befuddling diversity. It is this point that former President Pranab Mukherjee has had occasion to harp on as he was addressing an RSS congregation at Nagpur last week. His take on matters pertaining to the idea of India – nay, the idea that India was, is, and will be – is crystal clear.
It is not important whether he, as a former Congress stalwart, should have attended the RSS programme or whether he would have done well to stay away from it given the RSS perception in the Congress mind. What is important that as a former first citizen of the country he has only driven home the point that in a democratic country no one is ideologically untouchable even as it has run counter the Congress’ long-cherished ‘secular’ worldview. He has thus brought to the fore the need for dialogue despite all differences, for deliberation despite all dichotomies. This precisely is democracy, a system where one can – rather, where one must – have differences but where one must never forget there is always scope within the democratic framework to abridge all differences and discords and arrive at a consensual approach to the burning issues of the day. At a time when there is a general proclivity to keep the differences alive by inventing new differences, Mukherjee’s was a timely intervention.
But the larger issue is far more significant – that of realizing that India has just “one identity” and it must sustain this identity for the march of its eternal ethos so brilliantly espoused in the Upanishads and other ancient Sanskrit treatises. This one national identity of the idea that India stands for – its diversity, multiculturalism, and religiosity, and yet its unity-in-diversity underpinning – is above “all other identities” as Mukherjee has so rightly said. One can be a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or of any other faith, one can be of any caste or creed, one can be a diehard atheist or a devout theist, but one is an Indian first, and then will other identities come. This is what the Constitution of the land too has pointed to at its best democratic assertion. Nothing can be more fundamental than this in the task of nation-building.
Therefore, instead of scoring brownie points over whether what the former head of the state said has gone in favour of the ‘secular’ brigade or whether it has only buttressed the Sangh viewpoint of the idea of India that it has clung to all along, both the sides should rather go in for an unprejudiced exercise of reason and contemplation for the betterment and furtherance of the One Idea called One India.
It was long before the legendary British physicist Stephen Hawking set out on an unbelievably astounding trip to the inner recesses of the space-time continuum that scientists could sense the astrophysical awe of the universe around them standing like an unmitigated mystery that was otherwise thought to be an exclusive domain of mystics and philosophers. With advancements in modern physics and technology, we are now in a proud position to declare ourselves enlightened enough to decode that mystery. From the time when Moon was perceived as a deity to the time now when man has embarked on many an ambitious journey into the puzzling insides of the universe, it has been a wonderful enterprise of the human spirit to triumph over seemingly hostile forces of the universe. Despite all this, and despite the fact that India is still considered a laggard in relation to scientific quests and achievements, when one hears that Indian scientists have discovered an exoplanet 600 light years away from Earth, it is music to the ear. These are scientists from the famed Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad who, by measuring the mass of the planet by using the indigenously built PRL Advance Radial-velocity Abu-Sky Search (PARAS) integrated with a 1.2-m telescope at Mt Abu, have made that breakthrough, thus making the country a proud entrant to the select club of nations discovering exoplanets outside the solar system. That the mass of the new planet, named K2-236b, is 27 times the mass of Earth and revolves around a Sun-like star in 19.5 days, arouses curiosity towards further theoretical astrophysical creativity and makes a recipe for grander research.
The PRL scientists have worked despite the impediments they and their ilk in the pure science research fraternity suffer from. Had it not been for successive governments not choosing to emphasize pure science research because there have been other politically more profitable ventures for them, Indian pure science research would not have had to endure so many handicaps. Nobels could well have been within our reach too just as the ones from MIT, Stanford, Princeton etc are so used to, because India is not short on talent and innovation, but is acutely short on political vision for pure science research to take a solid shape free from the existing bureaucratic fetters. Give our scientists, universities and research institutions the autonomy they deserve and one could well begin to marvel at more and more marvels.