Abi (following Krish and Sujai) asks: where is the Indian academic community on the current Rama Sethu / Sethusamudram Project debate? It is a fair question. What should be a non-controversial statement by the ASI -- that there is no archaeological or other evidence that the underwater "bridge" connecting India and Sri Lanka is man-made -- has been turned by the Parivar into a club with which to beat "pseudo-secularists". Some -- like Tarun Vijay of the RSS -- go so far as to say that "we had a different tradition of recording events and writing history", by which argument, presumably, the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata are the literal truth.
So why are scientists and the academic community silent? One reason could be it's pretty pointless arguing logically with these people. But another reason could be that many of us have doubts about the project anyway, and don't want support for the ASI's position to be construed as support for the dredging project.
This is the second time in recent weeks that the Sangh Parivar has found itself on the same side as (sections of) the left. The first was the nuclear deal. On the one hand, the BJP, which did much of the spadework for it in the first place, has decided to oppose it apparently because they are now the opposition party. On the other hand, to the hard-left, any alliance with the US is verboten. So we have the spectacle of The Hindu, for example, first editorially supporting the deal, then backtracking, then twisting itself into contortions in an attempt to explain why it is not backtracking. We also have the spectacle of the communists doing their best to threaten the government without being seen as joining hands with the BJP to bring it down.
This time, the communists have not been terribly vocal; but the environmentally conscious among us are not enchanted by the idea of destroying the rich marine ecosystem and coral reefs in the interests of better shipping. And, anyway, this project is hardly going to compare with the Suez or Panama Canal. Most international shipping will continue to circumnavigate Sri Lanka, and as for domestic shipping, small ships can already pass through the channel (and there's always the land route, which is very likely faster). As Natasha points out, we should make our arguments on such grounds. But we live in a world ruled by strawmen; maybe we are nervous that opposing the BJP-types on this will defeat the larger purpose, or that speaking out on the environment aspects will be construed as supporting the BJP.
That apart, was it advisable for the ASI to file such an affidavit? My opinion is this: like it or not, people in this country have strong religious feelings. And, unfortunately, many people (who are not necessarily sympathetic to the Parivar) seem to think -- rightly or wrongly -- that Hindu sensitivities get less importance than minority religions'. They would point out, probably correctly, that no Government department would dare observe that there is no evidence of the strand of hair at the Hazratbal shrine belonging to the Prophet. So, in this case, given all the other very relevant issues to be discussed, this particular provocation was quite unnecessary.
We do need to introduce some rationality into public debate, and keep religious bigotry out of it. But we should pick our battles carefully. In this particular case, I think fighting the BJP-types directly isn't worth it. Changing the terms of the debate, by focusing the discussion on the very real environmental concerns, is a much more useful idea.