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Abhutpurva kaam by Piyush Goyal: Newton's apple on Einstein’s head

What would worry Newton, Einstein as well as the ordinary, knowledgeable Indian is Mr Goyal’s scant respect for empirical knowledge

  • Published 15.09.19, 1:33 AM
  • Updated 15.09.19, 1:33 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Piyush Goyal’s dismissal of the importance of maths — would have miffed Einstein PTI

The cynicism for political utterances is understandable. Promises made by politicians are, after all, seldom honoured around the world. Thankfully, the architects of New India seem to be an honourable exception to this rule. That could be because their boss, Narendra Modi, believes in making promises and in keeping them. The prime minister claimed in a recent speech that he and his government had accomplished ‘abhutpurva kam’ — phenomenal work — during the first 100 days in his second stint in power. There is no reason for even cynical Indians to doubt the sanctity of Mr Modi’s assurance. After all, no other government in the history of Independent India has managed to, in a manner of speaking, make the entire sky — not a solitary apple — fall on Isaac Newton’s head.

Mr Modi’s colleague, Piyush Goyal — he is in charge of commerce and industry — recently said, with the necessary ministerial gravitas, that Albert Einstein had discovered gravity without the help of mathematics, causing Newton, the man who discovered the invisible pull and pressure of gravitational force, to turn in his grave. It is also unlikely that Einstein would be pleased as punch with the slip, which Mr Goyal admitted to later, adding, with the help of a quote from the German physicist, that a person who has not erred has not tried anything new. What is ‘novel’ here — Mr Goyal’s dismissal of the importance of maths — would have miffed Einstein. His general theory of relativity, which helped explain Newton’s discovery further, could not have been conceivable without the assistance of mathematics, a discipline which, presumably, does not rank too high in Mr Goyal’s opinion. After all, ‘structured’ formulae, the minister thundered, are anathema to innovation.

Mr Goyal’s monumental ignorance is not the only matter of concern here even though the responsibility of reshaping an entire nation surely permits an occasional lapse from august leaders. What, however, would worry Newton, Einstein as well as the ordinary, knowledgeable Indian is Mr Goyal’s scant respect for empirical knowledge. Thus the demonization of maths, the vanguard of verification and, in a way, of political accountability. Numbers, facts, evidence — the plinths that support the edifice of truth — cannot be accorded their place of honour in an India which, under the Bharatiya Janata Party’s watch, is being forced to nourish itself on myths and toxic superstition.

The dismantling of the scientific temper in India should rank as one of the indisputable, abhutpurva legacies of the BJP. This unravelling is being executed with ruthless precision. Curriculum is being distorted in academic institutions to push an unscientific agenda, political leaders are being encouraged to make absurd, illogical claims, and, when the need arises, guardians of reason — those at the helm of rationalist movements — silenced. In the light of these developments, Mr Goyal’s slip acquires a sinister edge.

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