In an address that was almost an echo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presentation at the Science Congress in Mumbai some years ago, the Union HRD minister harked back to the perceived wonder that was ancient India at a wholly inappropriate forum ~ the convocation of IIT Kharagpur.

The audience, consisting largely of academics, students and researchers had expected Mr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to be riveted to the phenomenal strides in science and technology effected over time by the distinguished brains on the campus and what today’s technocrats could strive to achieve in keeping with the imperatives of the country and the world. Far from it. On the contrary, the speech sounded as though it had been crafted by obscurantists.

What he averred must have been greeted with instant approval in the echo chambers of the saffronite school, but it doesn’t quite signify the victory of rationality and empirical science. Both have regretfully been accorded a minor rating. Altogether, it was a strained essay towards turning the clock back. Hence the paeans to the mythical bridge called Ram Setu, one that links Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Going by the epics. the bridge was used by Ram’s Vanar army to reach Lanka and rescue Sita.

Not many will buy the minister’s orchestrated claim that it was constructed by engineers of ancient India, scarcely realising that no period of Indian history is as controversial as the pre-medieval phase. Even the basic data concerning dates can be a topic of high-minded discourse. The claim that Ram Setu symbolises a “technological feat” of ancient India must have left the rarefied audience of 2000-odd graduating students, 372 PhD recipients, professors and scientists squirming.

The IIT convocation doubtless deserved better than a recital of perceived scientific achievements in ancient India. Arguably, even front-ranking historians of that period, pre-eminently Romila Thapar among the greats, will not readily concur in the absence of empirical evidence, indeed the bedrock of historiography. In the net, the country’s HRD minister has blurred the crucial distinction between history and mythology when the IIT fraternity was looking forward to a rational and erudite presentation.

Of a piece with the claims on Ram Setu was the minister’s reference to the Bhagvad Gita as science ~ “The entire world is now being taught the Gita because it is science,” was Mr Nishank’s proud boast. Not wholly unrelated was the claim that Sanskrit ~ “the language of the gods” ~ is the first language of the world. Linguistic history doesn’t come within the ambit of a technological campus. The HRD minister was almost certain that “if a computer ever spoke, it would be Sanskrit”.

This is not even mildly amusing; it sounds ridiculous even at the mildest estimation. Sad to reflect that the convocation failed to mirror the forward movement in science and technology. As it turned out, Mr Nishank’s presentation at the country’s oldest IIT was not remotely connected with science or technology.