(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 26, 2001
Religious Fundamentalism Always Opposed Science
WEST BENGAL chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made it clear in his strongly-argued speech at the ceremony to mark the golden jubilee of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, that astrology was as far and away as possible from scientific thinking and scientific research. He put forward his arguments while the union minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi, a staunch advocate of astrology, was present on the dais.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that right from the time of such pioneers of science as Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, and Kepler, religious fundamentalism had chosen to stand opposed to the development of a scientific frame of mind. Referring to the recent claim preferred by the "saffron brigade" to include astrology as part of the education syllabi of the country, the Bengal chief minister said that in their haste to put forward antiquated theories of retrogression, the votaries of "saffronisation" were deliberately equating astrology, a non-science, with astronomy.
Bhattacharjee pointed out how, over the years, astronomy and astrophysics helped mankind in accelerating the development and growth of a productive use of scientific knowledge through advancing human knowledge on the existence and expansion of the universe.
The Bengal chief minister also issued a passionate appeal for the utilization of science for purposes of creation and growth, and not for debilitation and destruction. Bhattacharjee said that science should be put to use as an instrument of the ongoing battle against hunger, disease, socio-economic discrimination, and illiteracy, and towards this end, the rich natural resources available in India should be put to proper use. In his words, "intellectual property shall ever remain one of the richest sources available on the basis of which mankind will make a meaningful progress in the years to come."
Responding to Bhattacharjees comments, Murli Manohar Joshi sought to soft-pedal his own arguments and tried to prove by quoting figures off-the-cuff that the union government had spent much more funds in the development of astronomy than in the realm of astrology. Joshi readily agreed that astrology and astronomy could never be put on the same pedestal but maintained that "a lot of people in the country are interested in astrology and we must not disappoint their urge to learn more on the subject."
Joshi also referred, somewhat out-of-context, to the "simputer," a voice-to-text hand-held device that is yet in the experimental stage as "the answer to very many problems of communication in e-governance," and highlighted the fact that the "simputer" project was being looked after by the union government. The BJP leader also took pains to point out that it was the new education policy of 1986, formed and implemented when the Congress was in office, which had in fact recommended astrology to form a part of the education curriculum and that the BJP-led NDA government was "merely initiating follow-up measures."