One major highlight of the recent Indian Science Congress is a special session in which eight scholars presented papers on science in India in the Vedic period. One of them claimed that an Indian rishi had written a book, a pioneering thesis on all aspects of aeronautical engineering, while another claimed that ancient Ayurvedic practitioners used surgical instruments like the ones used by modern-day allopathic surgeons. Whether such contentions are hilarious or not depend on those who respond to them but for the government what is important is the present and the future. It does not matter whether Indians invented aircraft much before Wright brothers did so, when India has not manufactured a modern aircraft.
The state of Indian science is a matter of grave concern. In 2000, an American newsmagazine short-listed 100 great inventions during the second millennium. They included electricity, computer and mobile phone but none of them was invented by an Indian. True, Indians were great astronomers and knew the art of making steel when metallurgy was an unknown science in the West, as proved by the Iron Pillar at Qutab Minar. For reasons which are many, India lost its pride of place in science and technology. It needs to recapture its lost position, not by eulogising the past but by fortifying the base of science so that it has scientists of the calibre of C V Raman and J C Bose.
India has a plethora of scientific institutions, funded by the state, whose contributions to the advancement of science amounts to a big zero. The state of science can be gauged from the fact that there are virtually no takers for basic science courses. Even the most talented who graduate from the IITs prefer to obtain a degree in business management to get a lucrative job in a multinational. The Constitution expects the government to promote “the scientific temper” but the ministers and officials promote superstition, instead. Even vice chancellors are caught for plagiarising their theses. Drastic and imaginative steps are required to restore glory to Indian science.