New Delhi: Historians today joined writers, filmmakers and scientists in growing protests against "climate of intolerance" over which top scientist P M Bhargava said he will return his Padma Bhushan award, alleging Modi government was trying to make India into a "Hindu religious autocracy".
As a second group of scientists joined the wave of protests by the intelligentsia, 53 historians including Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, K N Pannikar and Mridula Mukherjee hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not making any "reassuring statement" following concerns over "highly vitiated atmosphere" prevailing in the country.
"Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets," the statement by historians said referring to Dadri lynching incident and the ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni during a book launch function in Mumbai.
"When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest," it said.
Bhargava, who founded the prestigious 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 in Hyderabad. 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 the "climate of intolerance".
"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, P Balram, Madabusi Raghunathan, and D Balasubramanian, a Padma Shri awardee. They protested the "active promotion" of irrational and sectarian thought by "important functionaries of government".
Union Minister Arun Jaitley, however, hit back at those returning awards, saying they were "rabid anti-BJP elements" and called it a "manufactured rebellion".
"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," Jaitley said in Patna.