science world

The 103rd Indian Science Congress was a circus, a carnival, a curiosity generator

Amidst the mediocrity, there was one cause for optimism: the eagerness of the children who attended the event.

The annual rituals are over. The curtains have come down on the 103rd Indian Science Congress, which was held in Mysore from January 3-7. It’s time to introspect, to see what we gained, what we lost, what we did and what we didn’t.

Narendra Modi knew exactly what would trend on Twitter, scroll on TV and scream beneath the mastheads. At the inaugural session, he asked the audience of scientists to chant the 5E mantra: economy, environment, energy, empathy and equity.

As our PM knows, 5Es + Make in India + Digital India + Start-up India + Stand Up India + Swachh Bharat = India.Ver2. If we follow this, India will be a developed nation soon.

Nobel Laureate David J Gross from the US was probably the newsmaker of the Congress. He spoke from his heart and even took on Modi’s pet Make in India mission. “What will you make without discovering and inventing in India?” Gross said. “Every year, prime ministers come to the Indian Science Congress and promise that more money will be given to research and development. But nothing happens.”

A suggestion

He asked Indians to change the way they work and think. He wanted the rigid and bureaucratic system to be shunted out. He said that if basic science has to thrive, then India needs to revamp its thought process. “Invent. Discover and then Make in India,” Gross said.

Though the organisers managed to keep the Congress free from controversies, a paper that aimed to cast the god Shiva as the world’s first environmentalist grabbed some attention when it was listed on the programme. However, the author failed to turn up the conference, claiming that he had hurt his leg. Almost as if to compensate for his absence, an Indian Administrative Service officer at another session blew a holy conch for two minutes. He claimed that it could eliminate many disorders faced by mankind.

Though APJ Abdul Kalam died last year, the former president’s name was invoked frequently. The very mention of his name evoked spontaneous response from the audience. Modi made a reference to him, as did the politicians who spoke. One speaker, a child prodigy, used Kalam’s name over 200 times in her presentation.

It’s little wonder that India-born Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan called the Indian Science Congress a "circus".

The way ahead

As anyone in the field knows, science needs no slogans and speeches. Science needs sensible people who will walk the talk. It’s time to empower our science teachers in schools. After all, they are the custodians of our future Ramanujams, Abdul Kalams and CV Ramans.

Quotations and catchy phrases cannot take India forward. We need committed foot soldiers, who can shoulder our science and technology dreams. A science congress is not the answer for our future. It’s just a reminder as to where we stand amidst other nations today.

The only one takeaway for me from the 103rd Indian Science Congress was to see the number of schoolchildren who participated in the five-day show. As a speaker at the Children’s Science Congress, I could see the spark in their eyes and eagerness to know more. Our efforts must be to make them communicate better. If we missed the bus, let’s ensure they are well on time to reach their dream destinations.

The writer is a veteran aerospace and defence journalist and a motivational speaker. He is the advisor to the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam International Foundation, Rameswaram. His Twitter handle is @writetake.

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