People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 30, 2007

Governance Cannot Be Based On Myth


Nilotpal Basu


THE ‘I’-word is, perhaps one of the most despised in India today, particularly for explaining away the opposition of the Left to the nuclear cooperation agreement as ‘ideologically driven’. This is understandable because increasingly the intellectual inclinations here are becoming closely proximate to global neo-liberal thought. That is what market driven ideology is all about. Neo-liberalism itself was explained by one of its chief political proponents- former prime minister of Great Britain- the iron lady herself-Margaret Thatcher as Social Darwinism. And not to speak of Neo-Conservatism of Messers George Bush, Dick Cheney et al and the inspiration that it has drawn from Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilization. These are also in fact ideologies, which can be accepted, even without so much of a whimper! In effect, these ideological tendencies represent justification for domination and reinforcing status quo. Therefore, it becomes quite clear that the crusade against ‘ideology’ is actually against change. This becomes all the more apparent in the issues that are brought up in the context of the raging controversy on ‘Ramar Sethu’ or more popularly known locally as Adam’s bridge. With the position taken by the leader of the opposition Lal Krishna Advani and his BJP along with the entire saffron brotherhood, this is becoming increasingly clear. No doubt there is a need to distinguish between religiosity and communalism. When the religious sentiments are sought to be incited to divide the people or for political mobilisation, then that process becomes outright communal. No democratic government, which believes in respecting the diversity of its people on the basis of faith, ethnicity or language, can afford to disrespect these differences. But it is equally true that faith cannot be the basis for governance. Holding on to the question of faith or myth as the basis for governance can actually stifle the needs for a modern state based on scientific analysis. The present controversy on the ‘Ramar Sethu’ is an extremely important case in point. That the BJP does not give any credence to the imperative need for basing governance on scientific paradigm to carry forward –what they call ‘cultural nationalism’- is clear from how they treated the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) when they were in office. It is important to iterate that with the advancement of civilization, archaeology has evolved as a major science to understand our past. There are several important applications of physics and chemistry to interpret archaeological findings like space photography or carbon dating. It is entirely possible that such findings may come into conflict with mythology or our epics. It must also be stressed that this does not in any way undermine the value of mythology or those epics. The conflict arises only if those myths are sought to be established as historical facts and scientific findings, which dispute the historical basis of those myths, are rejected. In such situations faith is sought to be given precedence over scientific findings and that is precisely what the BJP tried to do when they formulated the ‘Saraswathi Heritage Project’ with Jagmohan as the minister for Culture. Rules were bent and excavations were ordered without any academic body or university recommending the undertaking of the project. The Central Advisory Board for Archaeology, which decides on the basis of such recommendations as to which project will be taken up by the ASI, was kept out of the picture. The NDA government had constituted an advisory committee with the then minister of Culture as chairman, which had recommended the Saraswathi Project. The parliamentary standing committee, which went into the functioning of the ASI, noted, “that the ministry is not clear as to which research agency/scientific survey actually pointed out that the dry beds of river Ghaggar and river Chautang (river Drisadwati) are the bed of river Saraswathi. The committee understands that existence of river Saraswathi is purely a mythological one and a scientific institution like Archaeological Survey of India has not correctly proceeded in the matter.” It is relevant to point out that parliamentary standing committees included all political parties and the report of the standing committee of Culture (91 st) was placed in the parliament on November 25, 2005. The other point to note is that the report was unanimous which included importantly the present minister Ambika Soni and other bigwigs of the BJP like Kalraj Mishra. Obviously, the committee upheld the principle of assigning precedence to scientific facts over faith and faulted the ASI for deviating from that principle. In fact, the entire report emphasised the need for ensuring the scientific character of the ASI. Surely, the committee collectively displayed a sense of ideology based on science as against that on blind faith.


Today the question is, in response to a petition by Subramaniam Swamy, which called for a halt to the Setusamudram project claiming that the natural formation at Rameswaram is man-made and had been built by Ram’s vanar senas. The ASI’s contention, based on scientific evidence of marine scientists has rejected the contention of the petitioner. To this extent, not only is the ASI correct, it has been true to its desired scientific character. The government had decided to withdraw part of the ASI affidavit, which went beyond the requirements of the petition and supposedly ‘hurt religious sentiment’.


Frankly speaking, ASI is not a political organisation that it can take a call on the implication of its findings. Definitely, it should not go beyond its brief and opine on subjects, which are not asked for. The task of political formulation to respond to a politically overloaded petition is essentially the task of the government.


But the communal politics that the Sangh and its affiliates including the BJP are indulging in is essentially driven by an ideological underpinning. It is an ideology, which is backward looking and presumes the primacy of faith over scientific facts. The government’s failure to take on this backward ideology in itself betrays a lack of comprehension about the need for scientific ideology in matters of governance. That is why it has not only become ultra defensive but has become embroiled in an internally contentious discourse. Meanwhile, the saffron crowd is making hay on this lack of conviction of the government on the imperatives of a scientific ideology for governance.


For people and the nation this is a dangerous cross road. Shall we collectively act as a forward looking nation displaying a modern outlook –or ideology for that matter, consistent with the requirements of the new millennium or shall we hark back to an age old mindset where faith will be given primacy over scientific facts? With the crusade against anything to do with ‘ideology’, the forces of regression will wreak havoc, tearing asunder the fabric of modern thought.