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What explains Modi's last-minute snub to RSS wing at Indian Science Congress?

The prime minister left the venue without conferring an award to Vijnana Bharati that had been confirmed by the Department of Science and Technology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday took a last minute U-turn while inaugurating the Indian Science Congress at Mysuru. He left the venue without conferring an award on Vijnana Bharati, an important wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The unusually important decision of Modi – whether caused by wanting to stay away from a fresh controversy or the intensification of his cold war with the RSS – infuriated the Vijnana Bharati, commonly known as VIBHA, so much that it immediately went public with its resentment.

A press statement issued by the body's secretary general A Jayakumar soon after the inaugural session of the 103rd Indian Science Congress said:

“The last minute denial of award to VIBHA in Indian Science Congress 2016 (ISC) by PM in the inaugural function, for its unique achievement of becoming the first organisation to receive Guinness Book of World Records [sic] in the field of science from India, has been a rude shock to the leaders of the organisation and scientific fraternity as a whole.”

A world record

On December 7, 2015, Vijnana Bharati organised a science class of 2,000 school students in the lawns of Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. The move was aimed at creating a new world record for the highest number of students conducting an experiment simultaneously. Two cabinet ministers – Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani – were also present at the occasion. Later, a video recording of the science class was sent to the Guinness Book of World Records. Ireland held the previous record with 1339 students conducting an experiment simultaneously in Belfast in February 2015.

Jayakumar, an RSS pracharak, told that the award to Vijnana Bharati for making the world record had been ratified and confirmed by the Department of Science and Technology and other relevant committees. “We were asked to be present at the inaugural session of the Indian Science Congress where Modi would honour us for our achievement,” he said, adding: “We had decided that Prof Gurish Kumar, who had coordinated the Delhi event, would receive the award on behalf of VIBHA. I also accompanied him to the inaugural function.”

Vijnana Bharati, which is aimed at promoting Swadeshi sciences, is considered an elite wing of the RSS. Its significance in the Sangh’s scheme of things could be understood by the fact that two of the senior most office-bearers of the RSS – general secretary (Sarkaryavah) Bhaiyyaji Joshi and joint general secretary (Sah Sarkaryavah) Suresh Soni – are directly or indirectly involved in its activities. While Soni is incharge of Vijnana Bharati, Joshi takes special interest in its functioning.

According to a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, Modi did not want to get embroiled in a controversy by honouring something which is hardly recognised as an achievement outside the RSS. “About a year back, just before the previous Indian Science Congress, he had courted a controversy by wondering how a plastic surgeon could have been involved in planting an elephant’s head on Lord Ganesha,” he pointed out.

Strain in the relationship

Officials in the RSS, however, viewed Modi’s decision not to honour Vijnana Bharati at the Indian Science Congress as yet another indication of the strain in the prime minister's relationship with his party's patron body. Since the Assembly elections in Bihar, there has been persistent talk of tension between the prime minister and the RSS intensifying.

Such are said to be the differences that neither Modi nor RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat is likely to attend the BJP-RSS coordination committee meeting slated to be held after January 14 this year. Many of the contentious issues related to the Modi government are likely to come up for discussion in the meeting.

Jayakumar, on his part, refrained from directly blaming Modi for the embarrassment caused to Vijnana Bharat. He, instead, blamed the Prime Minister’s Office for the faux pas. “I find serious fault with PMO in the denial of the award to a Guinness Book of World Record holder from India. This matter again highlights the urgent need to constitute a Scientific Advisory Committee to the prime minister, which is pending even 18 months after the new government coming into force,” the press statement, signed by him, said.

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