Eminent scientist Pushpa Mittra Bhargava today said he is returning his Padma Bhushan award alleging that the NDA government was trying to make India into a "Hindu religious autocracy" even as more scientists joined the chorus of protest against "growing intolerance".
Bhargava, who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, said he will return the award conferred on him in 1986 because he felt the climate in the country was of "very strong fear" and it was "against rationality, against reason and against scientific temper".
"I have decided to return the award. The reason is that the present Government is moving away from the path of democracy, moving towards the path of making the country Hindu religious autocracy just like Pakistan. This is not acceptable... Something I find unacceptable," the 87-year-old scientist told PTI here.
He alleged that appointments to various positions are being made with people who have some connection with RSS.
Charging the Modi government with "not keeping its promises", Bhargava said, "returning the award is the only thing I can do as a scientist".
"BJP is a political front of RSS... Master is RSS. There was a CSIR meeting (directors) wherein RSS people attended it. This never happened in the history of CSIR. I will return the award next week," he said.
Bhargava's decision came even as he joined a second group of scientists who came out with an online statement expressing concern over "ways in which science and reason are being eroded".
"It is the same climate of intolerance, and rejection of reason that has led to the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi and the assassinations of Prof Kalburgi, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar and Shri Govind Pansare," said the scientists and academicians including Bhargava and other Padma Bhushan recipients Ashoke Sen and P Balram.
On Tuesday, a group of scientists had petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee voicing concern over incidents of intolerance, including the killing of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi, and urged him to initiate "suitable actions".
The scientists have joined the writers and filmakers in the protest, which has been termed as a "manufactured rebellion" by the BJP-led NDA government.
Hitting out, Union Minister Arun Jaitley today said most of those who have returned awards were "rabid anti-BJP elements".
"Follow their tweets and their stances on various social and political issues. You will find a lot of rabid anti-BJP elements in them.
"I had already called it a manufactured rebellion. I stand by my phrase. And I think, the events as they are unfolding only indicate that kind of manufacturing is going on at faster speed," the Minister said in Patna.
Bhargava dismissed allegations that his action was politically motivated and said,"Dissent is dissent and there is a specific point on which you dissent."
"I was a very strong critic of the UPA government and in my book 'A Critique Against the Nation' had criticised the UPA government but the UPA government did not tell us what to eat, how to dress what to think or give us lessons in morality.
"The present government tells us all that which I found unacceptable...The extent of irrationality that we see in these decisions," he said.
"There is a climate of very strong fear now and it frustrated me. This is a personal decision of my family and myself nobody else involved in this decision," Bhargava said.
"Our country is a socialist, secular, democratic republic. The government is moving away from secularism, socialism and democracy,"
He also alleged that the Centre was not keeping its promises. "The Modi government should do what it has promised. He is not keeping his promises. Development, peace working in a democratic way.... At the moment it seems the RSS is running the government and not Mr Modi."
Stating that he had protested on many other occasions in many different ways Bharghava said "the space for dissent was now decreasing" and that "the climate of the country had now reached a status where something drastic needs to be done."
In 1994, the molecular biologist, who was also a former fellow of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), resigned from all the three science academies of India -- Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Sciences and Indian Academy of Sciences besides the the Indian Social Sciences Academy, of which he was a member, to protest against what he calls the activities of the "science mafia".
"I had resigned from fellowships of all the three national science academies, and that was something that had never happened before. I felt these academies were socially sterile they had a social responsibility and cant be fully immune to politics," he said.
"...The present government does not understand how science is done. In this respect they are much worse in comparison to all the earlier governments in our country. No understanding of what science is about and how it is done. If you ask an institute to earn its own money, it can't do any research," he said.
The scientific community also appealed to other sections of society to raise their voice against the "assault on reason and scientific temper" in India.
The petitioners, which also included noted scientists Madabusi Raghunathan and B D Balasubramanian, a recipient of Padma Shri award, raised the issue of recent attack on Dalits and minorities.
"The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country," the online petition says, which has been signed by some 476 people.