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Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh not only stayed away from the meeting but offered the cryptic comment that those who "prescribe and proscribe" academic courses would be "swept away by history". While the leftist attempt to mobilise the Opposition on the astrology platform was a non-starter, there was a legal mine in the UGC's path.
The Supreme Court issued it a notice last week on a petition filed by scientist P. Bhargava and two others. The petitioners sought the court's intervention because, among other things, the UGC had agreed to finance the astrology course in 20 approved universities and allocated Rs 2 crore this year for the purpose. However, astrology is not the only "controversial" subject that has recently got the UGC's stamp of approval.
Nor were the decisions unanimous. Commission insiders claim that the prodding had come from the ministry.
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Kaw, member and education secretary known for his ideological proximity to the minister, had been the prime mover on introducing courses centred on Hindu heritage. At a meeting of the member commission on October 16 last year, a decision was taken, reportedly at Kaw's initiative, to start departments of Vedic astrology in universities in order to "add a new dimension for research in the fields of Hindu mathematics, Vaastu Shastra, meteorological studies, agricultural science, space science, etc".
The commission then set up a nine-member committee to design the course.
The guidelines were framed at a UGC meeting on January 25 this year. Joshi claims that 45 universities expressed interest in running the course. Of these, the claims of 20 were approved after scrutiny.
While the astrology course attracted attention because of the academic debate it triggered, the HRD minister's passion for legitimising traditional subjects left its stamp on quite a few UGC decisions. On February 26 this year, for example, it approved the funding of graduate and post-graduate degrees in human consciousness and yogic sciences in 10 universities. The course, according to the UGC guidelines, includes the "science" of parapsychology and delves into such metaphysical depths as "the seven levels of consciousness" and the "altered state of consciousness". The course has been accepted, among others, by Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, supposedly a citadel of leftist thought.
Yet another graduate course on pourahitya , the Hindu priestly rituals, has been foisted on Kashmir University and the North-East Hills University, both in minority-dominated states. The astrology course claimed public attention following the campaign by the rationalist lobby, for no other traditionalist discipline recently introduced by the UGC threatens to turn some of the basic tenets of modern science upside down. The UGC guideline says that Vedic astrology "lets us know the events happening in human life and in universe on a time scale".
The question is whether the taxpayer should be made to foot the bill of such a monumental inquiry. Murli Mahohar Joshi and UGC get mired in legal, political maze over introduction of astrology courses in universities Introduction of astrology courses in universities has drawn Murli Mahohar Joshi and the UGC into a legal and political maze.
Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
Rao lectures on astrology at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Get real-time alerts and all the news on your phone with the all-new India Today app. Download from. Post your comment. Do You Like This Story? Now share the story Too bad.