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Vineeta Bal, a former member of the Prime Minister’s task force for science, narrated a humorous poem by the Marathi poet Sopandev Chaudhari last week to underscore the importance of scientific temper.

The poem points out that Newton could think of the law of gravity when he saw the apple fall to the ground while some of us can only think of eating the fruit. And so on. What he meant was we need a scientific temper and he wrote this many years ago.

She was speaking on the theme of glorification of pseudo science during the present times at the two-day session of the Mumbai Collective, a unique platform, celebrating freedom and pluralism.

The session held on December 9 and 10 at Y.B. Chavan Centre in Mumbai, brought in activists, scholars, artistes and others dealing with subjects ranging from Kashmir, foreign policy, the culture of fear, fake new, the myth of the Gujarat model, the crumbling of economy, rewriting of history , RSS style and politics in the times of Hindutva.

Vivek Moneiro, a CITU union leader trained in nuclear science, said Tipu Sultan’s armed forces had developed expertise in plastic surgery to treat injured soldiers and it had developed military rocket technology which the British subsequently developed. Instead of talking about such expertise, pseudo-science was distorting our history and science.

Tejal Kanitkar, an assistant professor in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, while citing the growth of irrationality said quite a few students introducing themselves in the classroom ended up telling about their zodiac signs.

Two of the sharpest observations on politics came from non-political figures. Atul Bharadwaj, a retired Naval officer and defence analyst, said the independence of the Indian state was being subverted from within by the rulers who were serving imperial interests of Western powers.

He also expressed concern over the politicization of the Indian military forces, dividing the officers and jawans, privatizing defence production by bringing in people who were no better than middlemen and who had not the technology to even manufacture a car.

He also referred to the plunder and loot of Indian money by corporate in response to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for releasing the animal spirits of free enterprise.

Kiran Nagarkar, prominent author, said the tolerance shown by Mrs Sonia Gandhi to rampant corruption during the UPA regime had helped the BJP to come to power.

True, Mrs Gandhi and Mr Singh are way above Mr Narendra Modi in stature but much of our political analysis has been too soft on them.

Mumbai Collective now in its second year is indeed a unique platform bringing together everyone loving freedom and caring for democracy. Saeed Mirza, noted film director, said it was a beacon of light. He was very hopeful about the future with young people becoming so socially conscious. R Ramakumar, economist , professor in TISS and one of the most prominent figures in the Collective , said it was proposed to reach out to people through more such programmes.

Kanhaiya Kumar, the student leader, called for all democratic forces to come together sinking their differences in the common cause of defeating the forces of fascism.

Prakash Karat, senior CPM leader, said other forces in the society have to join political parties to defeat fascist forces. Atul Kumar Anjan. Anjan spoke in Hindustani and he was right to point out that this was the language needed to counter the BJP.

It was a pleasant surprise to hear radical poems recited by Rasika Agashe and Milind Agashe who come from a social milieu normally closely associated with Savarkar’s poems imbued with patriotic bombast.

There was justified criticism of the curbs on the freedom of the media. But some of the critics forget that a blatant attack on the freedom existed during the Congress regime as well with the media virtually blacking out working class struggles and protests. Since, this did not conflict with some of the well-heeled sections, it was not bothered.

Currently, most of the criticism of the BJP centres around its social, cultural and political ideology. It is easy to make fun of the extremely backward ideas of the BJP culture but there is not enough criticism of the economic policies, again because the affluent classes are not bothered about inequality.

The poor are under sustained attack currently. This is most visible in the drive against street vendors in urban areas, particularly in Mumbai. Though hawkers were in no way responsible for the recent stampede that killed 23 people on the bridge at Elphinstone road station in Mumbai, a brutal drive has been launched against them. This is nothing but a class war, removing the poor to make way for the upper class. This is immediately clear outside Dadar railway station (west). The space of hawkers is now taken by parking of motor bikes and cars causing inconvenience to citizens.

Trade unions and progressive sections need to look at the gross inequality in urban space. There is a lot of scope and need for academic research on this. Unfortunately, Sharit Bhowmik, who did sterling academic work on the issue of street vendors and other working people, passed away last year. It is obvious that the total area occupied by street vendors in Mumbai would be negligible compared to the large shops with luxury goods and shopping malls. With very little space, vendors serve a much larger number of people while the malls and big shops serve a small section of the population. Many of these big shops are also notorious for all kinds of violations. So, those selling essential items for the majority of the population are punished while a few serving elite interests enjoy all the privileges.

Sadly, Raj Thackeray, the leader of the Maharashra Navnirman Sena, despite his encouraging violent attacks on hawkers, is getting a lot of media and political patronage. Mr Sharad Pawar is to be felicitated soon for his more than half a century of political career. He will be interviewed on the occasion and after much search the choice has fallen on Mr Thackeray. That tells us something about the state of our politics.

(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority).

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