indian annual symposium


The dominant response of the urban college-goers on social media to the BJP’s victory in the 2019 elections has been to cry foul at the electorate that voted for the party. It is not just incorrect but also lazy.


Disclaimer: I did not vote for the BJP. I have had heated discussions with BJP supporters trying to prove to them why I don’t concur with their views and why, in my opinion, the Modi-led government did not do a job good enough in its first term to deserve a re-election. I used to be a supporter initially but things changed.

Regardless, the typical response of the urban college-going students – who would mostly identify themselves as perhaps being more on the liberal and the non-right side – to the election results on social media was almost a uniform rebuke of anyone who voted for the BJP, accompanied by cries of fascism and predictions suggesting virtually the end of democracy.

Among the many social media posts, some called shame on the voters for electing this government back. Others showed images of Mohammed Naeem moments before being violently lynched to death, of Mohammed Akhlaq, Gauri Lankesh and others and were shared as Instagram stories with captions urging voters to remember them before they voted.  It is true that the multiple lynchings and killings of dissenting voices by groups sharing ideologies similar to the ruling party or those affiliated to some of its members, and the silence of the dispensation over such acts can be reason enough for someone to not vote back a government – this was one of my reasons, at least.

However, to say that these can be the only metrics of judging whether the government should be voted for or not is quite dogmatic. To say that those who voted for the BJP did not vote for ‘development’ but ‘hatred and bigotry’, even if the voters themselves say that the former was the determinant, does not just imply that only one kind of electoral preference – one that is anti-BJP – should exist but also denies the agency to the voters to make their electoral decisions themselves by condemning those choices. It’s also highly patronising and arrogant to tell someone that you couldn’t have voted because of X reason because I’m telling you that you voted for Y. Who are we with our high-handed privilege to tell people what is right for them?

There can be tons of reasons as to why people might have voted for Mr Modi’s party. As writer Mahmood Farooqui argued in an article published on The Wire, “Many voted for him (Modi) despite acknowledging his policy failures. Some voted for him because he could defend the country, some because he had made the country proud internationally, some because he worked very hard and they saw him as honest, and some because there was nobody else on the horizon. Many people voted for a leader who they genuinely believed was doing good for the country and would continue to do good. They voted for a leader who they believed deserved another chance.”

Or as NDTV‘s Aunindyo Chakravarty wrote in his blog, “The Modi government might have failed in the…various type of ‘measures’ through which modern nations gauge their government’s performance – GDP, industrial output, profit growth, employment, and similar ‘data’ that states produce. It has, however, been extremely successful in creating ‘touch-points’ between the government and the poor.

“Swachh Bharat, PMAY (Awas Yojana), Ujjwala, Jan Dhan, Ayushman Bharat, Mudra, PM Kisan, are all such touch-points, that aid the operation of ‘governmentality’.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean some people didn’t vote for the BJP precisely because of the bigotry and divisiveness, as shown by journalist Supriya Sharma’s piece on Scroll.in. Yet, I would argue that a greater portion of people voted because of many other reasons – governmental schemes, choosing stability over a weak and fragmented opposition, popularity of Mr Modi and other such considerations. After a single term, the anti-incumbency factor isn’t that high either and people might often be willing to give the government another chance.

Hence, the “fascist, communal, bigot” arguments are quite incorrect. But they’re more than that – they’re also lazy.

Apart from the clichés of how it is very easy to sit in our air conditioned rooms and condemn people’s preferences, there are also the dangers of ideology. Living in a box is easy but also dangerous for it blinds people in their ideological echo chambers. The left using labels of “fascist”, “hyper-nationalist”, “communal” for right-wingers is basically the same as the right attaching derogatory connotations to “liberal”, “secular” or “communist” or using labels of “anti-national”.

Both are different ways of using the same tactic of attaching labels to opponents while ignoring nuance all along the way. This thumbnail point of view never allows for nuanced understanding or debate because most people, irrespective of their ideological leanings, don’t accept the fact that they might be wrong. This lazy argument of limiting the other’s perspective to a couple of fancy words remains meaningless to some and incomprehensible jargon to others. Ultimately, the root of the issue isn’t tackled and evils of communalism and bigotry are allowed to get away. In any case, when has Insta-activism ever solved a problem?

I’m not trying to do armchair political analysis and fall into the irony of critiquing armchair activists at the same time, which is why I’ve quoted from people much more experienced in this domain. Instead, I’ve tried to have a non-thumbnail, non-lazy argument with people like me who I think are missing the point.


Image credits – The Hindu


Prateek Pankaj

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The Indian Annual Symposium, saw an amalgamation of academicians, the Government, and industry leaders to illustrate the possibilities of scientific advancement.

On Thursday, 4th February 2019 at Vigyan Bhawan, the Indian Annual Symposium – ‘Science and Society’- was organised by the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (LMSAI) Harvard University, in collaboration with NITI Aayog and Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India. The opening ceremony was graced by Mr. Tarun Khanna, Director of LMSAI. Mr. Khanna talked about bridging the gap between scientists and the society.

Following the ceremony, the first session was titled ‘Setting the Context for Science and Society’ and it was moderated by Mr. Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog. The first speaker of this session, Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Member (S&T), NITI Aayog and Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University spoke of science as an important tool for the sustainable society. He further said that science, technology, and society are a three-way road which must go together as they have the power to transform civilisation. He ended his note by urging social scientists and society leaders to take lead for converting problem areas to workable strategies and decisions, especially in the fields of agriculture and healthcare.

The next speaker of the session was Ms. Kiran Mazumdar, Chairperson and Managing Director, Biocon, who talked about the areas and the ways in which India needs to improve in science and technology. She said that science should be celebrated and well-connected with the society.

Dr. K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, took the session forward by highlighting the biggest challenge faced the nation, which is the lack in inclusiveness of the three pillars of the country – government, industry, and civil society. He stated that science and technology, which is the fourth pillar of the nation, can help overcome this challenge. For that, he added, the country needs to embark upon large scale educational programmes so that the “language of science” is accessible to all. Countering Ms. Mazumdar’s example of Bangalore as a success model, Dr. Raghavan called the success essentially “an accident.” Thus, according to him, there’s a need to be little more active if we were to replicate the same success in multiple places.

Mr. Amitabh Kant ended the session by voicing the need of massive investments in science and technology for the development of India.

The second session of the Symposium was to highlight the ‘Technological Advancements in Agriculture,’ moderated by Mr. Manoj Kumar, Senior Advisor and Head – Innovation, Tata Trusts.

Dr. Shannon Olsson, Associate Professor, Naturalist-Inspired Chemical Ecology, National Centre for Biological Sciences, talked about the challenges faced by agriculture in India. She highlighted the need for India to have a better handle of its diversity and to focus on adapting sustainable technology. According to her, the ecological regions in the country need to be identified and awareness must be increased among the people.

Mr. Amitabh Mohanty then elaborated how we need to have “competency development” as well as “capacity development.” In his speech, he focused on the challenge# faced by the farmers – such as land, input quality, weather, nutrition security, and how it’s pertinent to have a look at farming needs and using technology to fulfill it.

Dr. Suresh Subramani, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California, San Diego said that extensive export of crude and food by India has precipitated a national crisis in food security. He introduced to the audience CRISPR-cas technology and explained how it can be beneficial for the farmers. According to him, India has immense potential to leverage this technology. He also made everyone of its challenges since it’s a new technology.

At the end of the session, Dr. Olsson strongly condemned the need for any more new policy. She added that the country already has a lot many of them and it’s time that people work on the existing policies.

Dr. Venkatesh Murthy, Professor and Chair of Molecular and Cellualar Biology, Harvard University, moderated the third session of the event titled ‘Why study Life Sciences?’ He initiated the discussion by highlighting how Life Sciences is intrinsic to the daily life of the people.

The first speaker of this session, Mr. Sanjeev Galande, Professor and Chair of Biology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research said that Life Sciences provides us with a platform to find the common thread of life. In his well elaborated presentation, he explained various technologies like single cell biology, and next generation sequencer, among others.  

Dr. Yamuna Krishnan, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago, began her address with a powerful statement – “We are all born basic scientists.” She demanded innovations in labs and universities to have supportive mechanisms to bring them out and make them reach people.  

The session continued with Mr. J. Satyanarayana, Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India, addressing important concerns regarding designing a system for health care which utilises data securely and creates a system that is “secure by design, private by design” in his National Digital Health Mission report.

Mr. Rahul Matthan, Lawyer, Head of Technical Division, raised ethical and legal questions regarding privacy and security. This was followed by a panel discussion and a short Q/A session.

The next session was led by Mr. Tarun Khanna, and focused on ‘Method and Tools to Enhance STEM Education in India.’ Mr. Dmitry Popov, Technology Development fellow in the Wyss Institute at Harvard, gave a detailed account of Soft Robotic Toolkit which can be used by high school and university students alike to explore the world of robotics.

The concluding session included Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, talking about an effective system of government and industry working together to achieve development in the society with the help  of science and technology.

Image Credits: Surbhit Rastogi for DU Beat

Maumil Mehraj

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Shreya Agrawal

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Antriksha Pathania

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