His sustained emphasis on the methods of science and his trenchant and sustained criticism of Satya Sai Baba, among others, won him many admirers but few co-travellers.
The eminent scientist and public intellectual Pushpa Mittra Bhargava passed away after a brief illness on August 1, 2017. In a condolence resolution passed at a meeting chaired by Muchkund Dubey, president of the Council for Social Development (CSD), New Delhi, August 2, members of the CSD team remembered his contribution as “an influential public intellectual and a unique institution-builder.”
Bhargava was a life member of CSD, the chairperson of its Research and Publication Committee as well as of the managing committee of the Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad. “As a mentor in CSD,” Dubey stated, “P.M. Bhargava guided research and advocacy programmes of CSD both in Delhi and in Hyderabad with insights and critical advice. In the past two decades, he helped CSD to grow into a national centre for research on core issues of social development that concerned the marginalised. Under his leadership CSD undertook several new programmes on themes on the borderline of natural sciences and social sciences. His insistence that good research should not only meet rigorous academic standards but must also be presented to the public for leading to fresh policy initiatives and social action to benefit the common people will always remain the inspiring canon before CSD.”
At Hyderabad, Kalpana Kannabiran, the regional director of CSD Hyderabad, observed that he was a constant presence at monthly seminars, meetings and academic events. Bhargava is especially remembered for his gentle, persuasive and encouraging presence, guiding the team and showing the way to excellence in research and courage of conviction.
His contribution to the founding of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and his contribution to the fields of biology and biotechnology are well-known. More significant in the present moment is his resistance to GM crops and his leadership of the movements for food sovereignty and the protection of biodiversity in India. A founder of the Association of Scientific Workers in India, of which Jawaharlal Nehru was president, Bhargava will be remembered for his fierce defence of associational freedoms, free speech and the scientific temper. His sustained emphasis on rationality and the methods of science; his creation of the Methods of Science Exhibition in the mid-1970s, which was vandalised under the watch of the government in power; and his trenchant and sustained criticism of Satya Sai Baba won him many admirers but few co-travellers, as he himself often pointed out with amusement.
In 1981, Bhargava, along with Raja Ramanna and P.N. Haksar, released the Statement on Scientific Temper, a document that defined his intellectual pursuits right till the end. He was particularly opposed to all manner of religious fundamentalism and bigotry, and promoted the spirits of science as well as dissent in every aspect of his work. Under his leadership, CSD-Hyderabad has grown from a small, barely known research institute to one that is recognised as an important centre for advanced research in the social sciences and humanities. On behalf of the entire team at CSD-Hyderabad, we place on record our deepest condolences to the bereaved family – and to his co-travellers who will miss his sage advice, wisdom and reassuring presence.
A wrong photo had been used earlier for this story. It has been replaced with the correct photo. The error is regretted