For the first time, the Indian Science Congress (ISC) is being postponed for security concerns, and it appears that the annual national event, which features on the prime minister’s calendar, will not coincide as planned with the centenary celebrations of Osmania University, the host campus. The loss of face is immense and the so-called security issues do not amount to much — a few students, belonging to Dalit, backward, minority and left-wing groups, are expected to demonstrate against the prime minister and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, protesting violence faced by some communities and the lack of opportunity following the formation of the new state. Feelings have run high on the campus following the suicide of an MSc candidate, allegedly due to the spectre of unemployment.
But a campus is where feelings and arguments can and should run high. It is the crucible of future politics, and politicians should engage with student protesters rather than seek insulation from them. Indeed, that would indicate a failure to take the student body along with them. Besides, a campus is the natural home of the ISC, for scientists should not transact their business in an ivory tower beyond the reach of the student body. Indian science has been seen to be faltering for some time — with the significant exception of the space effort — and it is important to inspire the student body. The proposal to relocate the meet to a trade fair facility is completely inappropriate. It would be like holding a business meeting in a football field.
Coincidentally, while the leadership of the ISC, the Telangana government and the Union Ministry of Science and Technology ponder over how to stave off the debacle, the Indian History Congress is preparing for its 78th session, which will be held at Jadavpur University in Kolkata next week. History is now a bitterly contested battlefield, as interest groups and political organisations try to right perceived past wrongs by denying the historical record. If anything, the annual meeting of India’s historians should arguably raise far more real concerns about security than a scientists’ meet. However, the history congress is going forward smoothly, free of anxiety. In comparison, the ISC has been largely non-controversial, other than stray references to flying machines and plastic surgery in ancient times. It should have the courage to hold on to its turf and engage with a student protest.