In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brave new world, where senior bureaucrats have sacrificed their morning rounds of golf, and ministries now tweet in two languages (though only in seven states), Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union minister for health and family welfare, is coming to seem like something of an anachronism.

First off, it seems he didn’t get Narendra Modi’s directive to his ministers about not saying things that could be misconstrued in public. The good doctor began his Cabinet tenure by telling the The New York Times that his ministry would realign its focus in India’s fight against AIDS. “The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not be on the use of condoms,” he declared. Instead he wanted his ministry to work towards “promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife”, which he says is a part of Indian culture. He neglected to explain how he planned to do this. Mass-screenings of Sooraj Barjatya films, presumably.

Harsh Vardhan quickly recanted his statement. Perhaps he was told that in 2006 Modi was a brand ambassador of sorts for Gujarat’s promotion of condoms, consenting to his face being used on contraceptive packages being sold across the state.

The next item on Harsh Vardhan’s agenda is sex education in schools. In a “vision document” he shared with Delhi’s schools, he writes, “so-called ‘sex education’ [should] be banned”. He stresses again, unsurprisingly, that wholesome values are the answer, arguing that a strong emphasis on India’s traditional culture will prevent adolescents from becoming sexually active.

There is a lack of precision and methodology that is surprising in someone with a background in science. You would expect a doctor to know about hormones, and a health minister to know about policy implementation. Instead, what does seem part of India’s value system is having health ministers who say patently ridiculous things. The previous incumbent, Ghulam Nabi Azad, called homosexuality a disease.

That incident is a good reminder that it is a mistake to pass off such public utterances as the mutterings of old men trapped in a quaint value-system. Any politician speaking in public is keenly aware of how his words will be understood. Azad’s words were a nod to the religious right in his home state, Kashmir.

In the same way, Vardhan’s statements should not be portrayed as amusing or even deluded ranting. The insistence that traditional Indian cultural values – conveniently amorphous as the term is – is the panacea for all sorts of societal ills is an important part of the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organisation that Vardhan has been part of since his medical school days in Kanpur. This is the unscientific agenda that the most accomplished doctor in this government is trying to put forward. We are right to be wary.