Dlisten to Dr. Hoodbhoy,
I am an avid reader of your articles and an admirer of your clear thinking and clear writing. Your relentless advocacy for countries to develop a scientific temperament is of great importance, not only for Pakistan, but for all developing countries seeking to increase the prosperity of their citizens.
I read your recent article on BJP’s ‘dual engine sarkar’. And I would respectfully point out that your description of the current BJP government’s attitude towards science and technology is an oversimplification.
First of all, I fully agree with you that Jawaharlal Nehru played a crucial role in instilling a scientific temperament in post-independence India. Many world-class Indian educational and research institutions were founded under his tenure as Prime Minister.
However, I dispute your implication that India first acquired scientific thought with the arrival of the British and their desire to spread Western education and values. Vedic mathematics, which you mentioned quite dismissively in your article, actually made fundamental contributions that Western scientists are beginning to recognize today. For example, Professor Kim Plofker, who wrote the book Mathematics in India. Plofker earned his doctorate from Brown University and spent four years at your alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
If not the whole book, I suggest reading his review by Professor David Mumford, winner of the 1974 Fields Medal. I quote the review: “His book fills an enormous gap: a detailed, eminently readable and scholarly study of the full extent of Indian mathematics and astronomy (the two were inseparable in India) from their Vedic beginnings until about 1800.” Another Fields Medalist, Professor Manjul Bhargava, spoke more recently about ancient India’s contributions to mathematics. You would think that a government committed to spreading the greatness of Hindu civilization would have ensured that these achievements were part of all school and university curricula. Nevertheless, it is not the case. Even undergraduate and graduate mathematics students in India are unaware of their country’s contributions to their chosen field of study.
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India did not need English or Western education and values to make scientific progress. What is undeniable, however, is that only Europe experienced the Enlightenment, also called the “Age of Reason”, which was fundamentally responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the scientific, technological and economic leadership of Europe. West for the next two centuries. . There is no doubt that modern science, as we know it today, is an artifact of the West.
Second, let’s turn to the attitude of the BJP towards science and technology. Again, you are correct that BJP leaders and ministers have made alarming and totally unfounded statements about India’s scientific achievements in the distant past. These statements shook the Indian scientific community. However, it would be a mistake to take these views as representative of the whole of the current government. Let me share a few data points to illustrate this:
- The Space Department’s annual budget fell from 0.33% of total expenditure in 2013-2014 to 0.48% in 2019-2020 and from 0.5% to 0.6% of GDP. In monetary terms, the budget almost doubled from Rs 7,464 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 13,760 crore in 2019-20 (compound annual growth rate of 10.7%). In every interaction with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his support and admiration for the work done by the scientists and engineers.
- Since 2014, six new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campuses have been opened and one (Indian School of Mines) has been upgraded to IIT status. Fifteen New Indian Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have been sanctioned and many of them are already functioning. Seven Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) were opened in 2015 and 2016. As expected, these new institutes face many challenges, ranging from attracting faculty and students to establishing links with industry . However, the government’s intention to replicate high quality institutions and make this level of education accessible to a much wider sample of the population is undeniable. A criticism against the BJP is that appointments to leadership positions in these institutes must pass the ideological filter, but which government, Indian or foreign, has made appointments solely on merit?
- The National Education Policy, unveiled in 2020, is a breath of fresh air. It emphasizes multidisciplinary education, citizen development, ethics and inclusion, creativity and entrepreneurship.
- India’s performance in the Global Innovation Index over the past seven years is encouraging. In the 2022 edition, India at number 40 is the highest ranked lower middle income country. This is a steady improvement from 81st in 2015. In terms of innovation, China’s progress has been nothing short of spectacular. It ranked 11th in 2022, becoming the highest-ranked upper-middle-income country, up from 29th in 2015. The main difference between the two countries is that for every dollar India spends on research and development, China spends 20. India’s research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP has actually declined over the past few years. Output measures, such as the number of national and triadic patents filed and the number of scientific and technical articles published in peer-reviewed international journals, continue to show a gradual upward trajectory. It would be wrong to attribute India’s improvement solely to the policies of the BJP government, but we can safely say that at least its policies have not proven to be detrimental.
- The Startup India Initiative, launched in 2016, has excited the nation and made its entrepreneurial ecosystem the third most vibrant in the world. There were around 50,000 startups in India in 2018, of which around 9,000 were tech startups. Many of India’s 107 unicorns are currently struggling, just like their international counterparts. Boom and bust cycles are normal in every entrepreneurial ecosystem, but the momentum that has been created over the past few years is undeniable. In areas such as artificial intelligence, India is doing well, as evidenced by the results of Peak.ai’s Business Intelligence Maturity Index.
I could give many other examples. In summary, while unscientific statements made by some BJP leaders are cause for concern, there is no danger that India’s progress in science and technology will be derailed under the current government. India definitely punches above its weight when it comes to education, research and innovation. Through numerous initiatives and actions, this government has demonstrated its support for modern science and education. We are convinced that the excellent start given by Jawaharlal Nehru will be maintained regardless of the party in power.
The author is a professor and dean of the School of Management at Mahindra University. He was previously Chengwei Capital Professor of Entrepreneurship at China Europe International Business School (Shanghai).
(Editing by Ratan Priya)
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