Fact and Fiction

From dissing Darwin to yogic farming: A short history of the BJP’s brush with pseudoscience

What happens when the country's top leaders peddle mumbo jumbo?

In 1954, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described big dams like the Bhakra Nangal project “the temples of modern India”. As Nehru made it clear, science and technology – manifested in dams, colleges, heavy industry – would be India’s civic faith, quite in contrast to its twin, Pakistan, which had religion at the core of its identity.

This Nehruvian vision has been wearing thin in recent years. That was evident most recently on Friday, when the minister of state for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh, claimed Darwin’s theory of evolution is “scientifically wrong”. The minister, whose department oversees the functioning of India’s education system, argued that since no one saw “an ape turning into a man”, it was proof that modern biology had got things mixed up. He said that textbooks should be changed to reflect his own thinking on the matter.

This is, unfortunately, not a one-off event. Several high-ranking members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls the Union government, have found it difficult to separate scientific fact from religious mythology. Here are some other examples.

Plastic surgery in ancient India

In the matter of fake science, the BJP leads from the top. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke of how the story of the Hindu god Ganesh from the epic Mahabharata proved that ancient India was proficient in both plastic surgery as well as reproductive genetics. Modi was referring to a tale where Ganesh was decapitated, after which an elephant head was attached to his body, giving rise to the form in which he is worshipped – a feat that science even in 2018 would be unable to achieve.

The Ram Setu miracle

The Ramayana speaks of a bridge from India to Sri Lanka built by the simian armies of Lord Ram. Should this influence India’s shipping and transport policy in 2018? The BJP thinks so and is resolutely against any plan to build a channel through what is today called “Adam’s bridge”. The Sethusamudram shipping canal project would reduce shipping time and save money – but it would also destroy a part of Adam’s bridge.

Cow dung products

Given the sacredness of the cow in various schools of Hinduism, even the faeces and urine of the cow is thought of be a medicinal product by some Hindus. This view does not have a lot of science backing. Despite this, last year, the Science and Technology ministry set up a committee to conduct research on the medicinal qualities of Panchgavya, a beverage made by blending, amongst other things, bovine faeces and urine. Panchgavya is often sold by Ayurvedic companies and Ayush minister Sripad Naik has also vouched for their effectiveness. In Parliament, a BJP MP from Gujarat decided to max out the stakes and claim that cow dung and cow urine could cure cancer, a disease that modern medicine often struggles to treat.

Another Union minister, Maneka Gandhi, in 2015 proposed that cow urine be used as a floor disinfectant. In the same year, a government-run hospital in Rajasthan, a state with a BJP government, decided to actually start using cow urine to mop its floors with.

Even more miraculously, a BJP minister from Rajasthan claimed that cow dung can absorb radioactivity.

Ancient Indian aeroplanes and nuclear weapons

In 2017, Union minister Satyapal Singh, proposed that Indian engineering students study the Pushpak Vimaan, a flying chariot mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

The Pushpak Vimaan is one of Hindutva’s lodestars and one of the most frequent arguments used to prove that ancient India – before rule by Muslim kings – was a high-tech wonder.

Another BJP appointee has gone a step further and even postulated that ancient India had nuclear weapons. Y Sudershan Rao, the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research opted for a literal reading of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and inferred that the weapons described in them were the result of atomic fission and/or fusion. He also said that stem cell research was present in Iron Age India.

As a result of this thinking, the Indian Institute of Technology is likely to add a course on “Vedic science”, reported the Telegraph.

Climate change is just old people feeling cold

Climate change is the burning issues of our times where science and politics collide. In the United States, conservative politicians have often denied the science behind climate change, preferring to hide behind irrationality in order to delay taking tough decisions. In 2014, months after becoming prime minister, Narendra Modi himself took a stab at the geoscience behind rising temperatures”. “Older people – 70, 80 and 90 years old – say in winter ‘this time it’s colder than last year.’ Actually, it’s not colder,” the prime minister claimed. “People lose their ability to tolerate the cold as they grow older. In the same way, the climate hasn’t changed. We have changed.”

Source of Ganga

Given that the Indian subcontinent was mapped out geographically under the British, there is little doubt that the region’s largest river, the Ganga originates in the state of Uttarakhand. However, this scientific fact it against some tough competition given that it contradicts Hindu mythology, according to which it flows down from Tibet. To solve this curious paradox, Union Water Resources minister Uma Bharti has directed the National Institute of Hydrology to explore if Ganga does not instead originate in Tibet.

Yogic farming

India has one of the lowest farm productivities in the world, with falling farmer incomes leading to socio-political upheaval across various states. The Union minister for agriculture’s solution? Yoga by farmers that would “give vibrations of peace, love and divinity to seeds and his farm land”.

If hard-boiled rationalists scoff at such talk, Virendra Singh, the BJP MP from Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh offered up another way to tackle to the farm crisis. Speaking in the Lok Sabha in 2016, Singh said that havans, a ritual burning of ghee and food stuffs, would bring better rains, since “havan of ghee produces Oxygen and havan of agricultural produce produces Hydrogen”, the two elements that constitute water.

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