Protests erupt in Kerala over the Central government’s decision to name the second campus of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Thiruvananthapuram after RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar

Published : December 09, 2020 19:32 IST

The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Photo: S. MAHINSHA

The Narendra Modi-led Central government has announced that the second campus of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCBT) in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, a premier molecular biology and biotechnology research centre now under the Ministry of Science and Technology, will be named after M.S. Golwalkar, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) ideologue.

The announcement, made by Union Minister for Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan on December 4 during his online address to the pre-inaugural session of the sixth edition of the International Science Festival, has taken Kerala by surprise.

The RGCBT had earlier announced that its second campus would be named the Centre for Complex Diseases in Cancer and Viral Infections.

Harsh Vardhan’s statement that the new campus is to be named "Shri Guruji Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar National Centre for Complex Diseases in Cancer and Viral Infections", apparently as decided by the RGCBT governing body, has come without notice to or prior consultation with the State government, which originally established the RGCBT as a research & development centre. The State had subsequently handed over the centre to the Government of India “for developing it as a centre of international standards in research and development”.

Protests are mounting by the day in the State on the propriety of choosing to name the campus after a person whose abiding role has not been in science but in providing Hindutva forces an ideological base and an organisational structure to achieve a “Hindu Rashtra”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political leadership has come up with rather strange arguments to justify the move: (a) “Golwalkar has an M.Sc. in Zoology” and “he left his studies while doing a Ph.D. in Marine Biology to become an active member of the RSS”; (b) that “he had a great vision about the scientific development of the country and his teachings and ideas are relevant in the present time”; (c) the Left has given the names of several communist leaders jailed in 1947 and 1962 for anti-national activities to several institutions; (d) the Communist Party of India (Marxist) should explain the basis for naming a football stadium in Kozhikode after E.M.S. Namboodiripad; and (e) why is the renowned annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Kerala named after Jawaharlal Nehru? (the last question was raised as a justification by V. Muraleedharan, the Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs).

The ruling and opposition parties in Kerala find themselves united as an offshoot of the controversy. Almost all political parties except the BJP have condemned the announcement to name the new campus after the RSS ideologue.

While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a letter to Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, suggested that the new campus should be named after “some eminent Indian scientist of international repute”, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the new campus should continue to function under the name of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Sashi Tharoor, MP from Thiruvananthapuram, said in a series of tweets on Twitter: “What is MSG’s [M.S. Golwalkar] contribution to science other than promoting the disease of communalism?”; “I suggest a local hero: Dr. P. Palpu, renowned bacteriologist and social reformer, born in Thiruvananthapuram in the year 1863. Expert in serum therapy and tropical medicine from Cambridge, Director of the Vaccine Institute and Fellow of the Royal Institute of Public Health. This forward-looking scientist and medical practitioner would be far more appropriate than an obscurantist ideologue of no scientific achievement and no discernible contribution to public health. It’s a BJP insult to Thiruvananthapuram and should be resisted.”

The Modi government’s move cannot be seen in isolation, coming as it does after similar controversies over pleas for “rewriting history from an Indian standpoint”, the unveiling of the V.D. Sarvarkar portrait at the Central Hall of Parliament and the eulogisation in school textbooks and through the naming or renaming of airports, railway stations, bridges, streets and flyovers after Hindutva’s other heroes such as K.B. Hedgewar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.

Moreover, if statements by V. Muraleedharan and other BJP leaders are any indication, the name “Shri Guruji Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar National Centre for Complex Diseases in Cancer and Viral Infections” has been presented as a fait accompli and, significantly, as a strong political message in Left Front-ruled Kerala where the BJP has so far been unable to make much gains. It is also significant that the RGCBT’s prestigious new campus also is in Thiruvananthapuram, where the BJP is hoping to make some significant gains in the ongoing local body elections and in the Assembly elections that is to follow soon.

For more on Golwalkar, read: What is Hindu Rashtra?