Astrology, Science and the Tragedy of Murli Manohar Joshi
There are some fights that do both sides no real good and Mr. Joshi and his Sancho
Panza, the UGC Chairman Mr. Gautam, have picked exactly one of these in their move to
start funding astrology courses at Indian Universities.
First things first. This move is brilliant politics for Mr. Joshi. His market niche in the
hyper-competitive world of Indian politics is that of the fearless defender of India’s
ancient, whence necessarily Hindu, culture against the “self-hating, secularized/
westernized elite”. Being attacked by Frontline and in this journal for coming to the
defense of Vedic Astrology suits him just fine.
There is anecdotal evidence for his tactical brilliance. A default faith in astrology is a
part of the lives of many Indians. (Not just Hindus, of course, as in other matters
involving the common culture. However Vedic astrology involves an appeal to the
classical Hindu tradition so in the following I will focus on fellow Hindus.) As Mr.
Joshi’s critics have, inevitably, attacked a belief in astrology as part of their response
large numbers of people find their cherished beliefs mocked in public. They will likely
respond by digging their heels in on the other side of the debate. Perhaps they will even
adopt Mr. Joshi as their standard bearer in the national arena.
Indeed, from Mr. Joshi’s perspective this move had the same compelling quality that Mr.
Vishwanath Pratap Singh detected in accepting the Mandal report. Sadly, it shares with
that other masterstroke the feature that all Indians on both sides of the debate would be
better off if it had never been invented.
Its political logic notwithstanding, two actual arguments have been marshaled in support
of the UGC’s move. Let me consider these in turn.
Planets and People
The first of these was nicely summarized by the underemployed K. N. Govindacharya
who said (Times of India, May 28th):
“This decision has, in fact, triggered a debate i