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Ram Guha claims Modi govt has done a surgical strike on science and scholarship, data says otherwise

In a nutshell, Mr Guha’s contention that Modi has systematically undermined the institutions of higher learning seems to be disingenuous and does not pass the smell test

I consciously avoid following twitter feed of Nehruvian intellectuals. But I was amused to find an opinion piece by Ram Guha, titled “Surgical strike against science and scholarship” published in The Telegraph on my Twitter timeline. There are two components to the article making a case that the Modi government has carried out a successful surgical strike on scholarship in social studies as well as natural sciences. I would leave his bogus claims about the social studies to be rebutted by someone in that field.

However, his claims about Modi’s surgical strike on natural sciences has zero scientific basis. His main complaints about the Modi’s war on Science are solely based on his assumption that India before Nehru was just a land of snake charmers and naked sadhus and hence any mention of ancient Indian scientific achievements by any member of Modi’s cabinet (including Modi) is considered regressive. We can certainly keep debating about whether surgery existed in ancient India much before the west until cows come home and despite the preponderance of evidence people like Ram Guha would continue to live in their make-believe world and continue to deny every such work as Sanghi propaganda. However, the following four points are more than enough to burst the bubble that the Modi government has been on war with science:

Research and Development Expenditure: As shown in the charts below, total R&D expenditure has increased not only in actual numbers but also as a percentage of GDP (data taken from the latest Economic Survey). It can be seen that the total R&D expenditure has increased from 0.6% to 0.7% of the GDP. Needless to say that this level of R&D expenditure is extremely low compared to other similar economies and a case can certainly be made to double the investment in R&D in next five years if India wants to emerge as a leader in this field. But the point here is that the contention made by Ram Guha that the Modi government has conducted a surgical strike on science is on very slippery ground.

Source: Economic Survey

The number of research papers published: A simple PubMed search of NCBI (The National Center for Biotechnology Information) database for the papers (Largely restricted to fields in Biomedical and Natural Sciences) published from India shown a steady increase of scientific output from Indian institutions. As shown in the following figure, the average annual number of publications coming out of institutions has significantly increased during the NDA-2 era as compared to UPA-2 era. Yet another measure of scientific morale (that Ram Guha claims to have deteriorated during Modi government) is returning of scientists from abroad to carry out their scientific research in India.

In response to a question asked in Rajya Sabha by Shri Narayan Lal Panchariya, the Government replied that the number of returning scientists has jumped significantly (see figure below). I don’t know where Guha measured the falling morale of the scientific community; the data says a different story. Other than these data points, I was recently in India (Feb 2019) attending a conference and had opportunity to talk to hundreds of scientists, and most of them were upbeat about the current scientific environment.

IITs: Since Ram Guha talked about the virtue of IITs, I looked at the establishment of IITs as a criterion for the government to science and tech development. A cursory look at available data again leads to a diametrically opposite conclusion. As shown in the following figure, whereas UPA-2 established 3 new IITs, NDA-2 has managed to establish 7 new IITs. Not only IITs but Modi government is miles ahead in establishing new AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences). Compared to 7 new AIIMS established by UPA-2, NDA-2 has managed to establish 15 new AIIMS. If these figures are indicative of a surgical strike on science and Scholarship to Guha, I am glad they refuse the actual surgical strikes.

Number of IITs and AIIMS established

Budgetary support to Flagship Research Institutes: Since Ram Guha brought up National Center for Biological Sciences in his article, I quickly looked at the total expenditure of NCBS (Data extracted from the annual report of NCBS). As you can see in this infographic that the total expenditure at NCBS has again increased during the Modi Government compared to UPA-2. Guha has also brought up the case of IISc (Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru) and there also the morale of scientists is probably on an all-time high as it has been consistently ranked number one in the country. My friends at IISc all seem to be doing great and none have complained about the anti-scientific temper of Modi government.

Total budget and expenditure at NCBS

So, in a nutshell, Guha’s contention that Modi has systematically undermined the institutions of higher learning seems to be disingenuous and does not pass the smell test. However, in the end, I must say that Guha’s piece is entitled an opinion and he is certainly entitled to his opinions howsoever ludicrous they might be.

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Born in Utaar Pradesh. Studied at Allahabad University (B.Sc.) and Banaras Hindu University (M.Sc. Biotechnology, Gold Medalist). Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Mumbai University. Worked at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre as Scientific Officer for 10 years. Moved to Florida State University in 2006 as a postdoctoral research fellow. Working as a Research Faculty since 2013 with primary interest in mass spectrometry and proteomics.

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