Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) in Jagathy, Thiruvananthapuram is one of the leading research centres of the country in the domain of biotechnology. The research hub that was started in 1990 as a charitable institution with the name Centre for Development of Education, Science and Technology (C-DEST) was later renamed after Rajiv Gandhi. In 1994, the state government developed RGCB into a fully dedicated biotechnology centre and in the last 25 years has achieved several feats in its area. The first UPA government elevated it into an autonomous research institution. Extensive research is taking place there on topics from cancer treatment to neuro-biology. RGCB had some ago decided to start a second campus in the capital with the name Centre for Complex Disease in Cancer and Viral Infections. Now the decision of the central government to give it the name of RSS leader MS Golwalkar has triggered a controversy. The state chief minister and the Opposition leader have both written to the prime minister demanding that the Centre withdraw the decision and give the institution the name of a biological scientist of the state. All the parties of the state, except the sangh parivar, have come out condemning the Centre's decision.
Going by Modi's government's record hitherto, chances of backtracking from the decision appear remote; and reactions from those including the central deputy minister V Muraleedharan also indicate so. As a matter of fact, there is nothing surprising in this move. The history of sangh parivar, ever since that of the Vajpayee government, is replete with instances of changing names of many historic cities for implementing patently saffronising agenda. With the assumption of office by Modi, the process only got accelerated. One main achievement the Modi government can boast of is having rehashed many of the welfare schemes implemented by the previous governments with the names of Hindutva figures including Deendayal Upadhyaya. Names of several RSS leaders, like its founder KB Hedgewar and VD Savarkar - who during the country's freedom struggle got exempted from prison term multiple times by submitting apology to the British government - have found their way into text books. It is as a continuation of this that Golwalkar is appearing as a new icon. He being the theoretician of the Hindutva brand of muscular nationalism and ideologue of extermination of minorities, the deification through this naming is a warning signal of the hazards in store for future. The Central government, which is going ahead with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) despite the nation-wide popular resistance that went aflame all over the country, now ventures to commemorate a person who sowed the seeds of an idea marked by communal hatred and divisive theory; and this cannot be seen as a casual act. It is also significant that the government chose for its experiment the state of Kerala itself, where the sangh parivar politics has so far not been able to make much headway.
Usually such research centres are named after leading figures of the country's freedom struggle or those who occupied seats of power later. And figures who made striking contributions in any relevant area are also honoured through naming institutions after them. Gandhiji, Nehru and Patel are remembered in this manner as nation builders. And leaders including Rajiv and Indira have shown the way for the nation in many respects. Geniuses like CV Raman and Dhyan Chand have brought the country glory at international level. When such personages are commemorated through various institutions and edifice, they ultimately reflect the concept of an India beyond all political differences. Where in this matrix does the name of some one like Golwalkar fit in? And it is a fact of history that Golwalkar, who had a masters in zoology, had later spoken about promoting racial purity through eugenics.
It is such reactionary scientific temper that the Modi government has been following, as evidenced by recent sessions of Science Congress. It is also a fact that the socio-political stances which Golwalkar and his movement have taken, are still more absurd than this. Naturally then, when a research institution is given the name of some one like him, the only thing that comes to mind will be the politics of hatred and extermination. Therefore, democratic courtesy demands that the Centre desist from such a decision. The only remaining question is whether Modi, for the sake of such a courtesy, will be prepared to forsake Golwalkar who had run down democracy as nothing more than granting rights to animals.