As the election season comes to a close, it’s time for the Prime Minister to shun ‘raw wisdom’ in favour of ‘scientific temper.’ It’s unlikely that his radar will pick this up
Amid a highly charged atmosphere of election campaigning, this past week gave us some humour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not have delivered on his promises in the past five years but he was kind enough to lend a little levity to the election trail. In a television interview recently, on the topic of Balakot, he said that on the day the airstrikes were to happen, some experts raised concerns about the cloudy weather but he was of the view that India could benefit from the bad weather as it would affect Pakistan’s radar technology and aid our Air Force. While the entire episode became a subject of joke with many memes doing the rounds on the internet — some commentators even claimed that Prime Minister Modi was joking — much like Modi’s tenure as the Prime Minister, his joke, too, was cruel.
The cruelty of the joke was that while discussing and considering such an important strategic decision, the Prime Minister chose to disregard the concern expressed by our experts in favour of what he calls “raw wisdom.” It is this “raw wisdom” which has been on display for the past five years. This week’s episode was the latest of the many. In my article this week, I will talk about how it is time we shelved this “raw wisdom” in favour of “scientific temper.”
In his book, The Discovery of India, Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said that “scientific temper” is “…the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory.” Therefore, the ingredients of scientific temper include: (i) the ability to read and learn in order to gain knowledge about a particular subject; (ii) humility; and (iii) being able to change one’s view in the face of newly-gained knowledge and information. Let us examine if the Prime Minister has been able to display any of these ingredients during his tenure.
Ability to learn: This aspect is limited not merely to reading up relevant material; it also requires a person to learn from experts in a particular domain. The “radar” fiasco by Modi was hardly the latest example where he chose to reject expert opinion. Take the example of demonetisation. It was one of the worst economic decisions taken by any democratic Government. It was sprung on all of us one fine evening in November 2016. Planning for note bandi was faulty, which was evident by the huge lines at ATMs and banks and the deaths of many elderly people, who succumbed to the long waiting hours while trying to withdraw money to ensure that they could continue their day to day lives. That wasn’t all. Demonetisation was not just a shock to us, the citizens, but also to our experts. As per reports, the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, was not even consulted before Prime Minister Modi sprung his great economic idea on us, as if the citizens of India are guinea pigs for every idea that springs from his brain. What was the consequence of not adopting a scientific approach and not listening to the view of experts in a particular domain? We were told that this was done to reduce black money and transition to a cashless economy.
However, when the dust settled, several reports, including one by the RBI, and various analysis by domain experts showed that none of the mission was accomplished. Reports suggest that black money, in fact, entered the system as white money. Even the goal of a cashless economy remains a pipe dream as the economy is now at the same cash level as prior to the announcement of demonetisation. So what was exactly achieved?
The informal economy suffered a crushing blow, which left the economy stuttering. Further, the decision created havoc in people’s lives. That Prime Minister Modi undertook this ill-advised dive into monetary policy was not so tragic than the fact that he took this decision without having the humility to consult the experts in this domain. This brings us to another ingredient of scientific temper.
Humility: This is not a concept that the Prime Minister is familiar with. Often referring to himself in third person, he rarely displays this grace when talking down to us as everyday citizens. Another way of expressing humility is by accepting that you were wrong. However, Modi has never believed he was wrong and, certainly, has never apologised. Whether it be demonetisation or insulting the memory of a late Prime Minister, who was assassinated by terrorists, the words, “I was wrong and I apologise” do not exist in the Prime Minister’s vocabulary. One only hopes that instead of showering us with his in-depth knowledge of “radar” systems, Modi will have the humility to apologise before the election season is over. That perhaps could be hoping for too much.
Open mind: The third ingredient of scientific temper is not being rigid in one’s view. On this aspect, too, the Prime Minister is found lacking. Modi has time and again sought to muzzle the opinions of the Opposition. This has not only been done in Parliament, where objections and amendments to crucial Bills have been discarded, but in the public discourse as well. In the case of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), concerns surrounding the infrastructure to implement the GST, as desired by the BJP, were repeatedly rejected because of a lack of humility by the ruling Government. Contrast this with the approach of Pandit Nehru, who included those leaders in his Cabinet even though they often spoke against him.
As this election season is coming to a close, I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Modi tells us in his television interviews a little less about how he likes khichdi and mangoes. He must tell us a little more about how he plans to imbibe some of the values briefly discussed above. Unfortunately, this forecast looks cloudy and it is unlikely that the Prime Minister’s “radar” will pick this up.
(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views are personal)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer