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Why Did BJP Leader Subramanian Swamy Lambast PM’s Principal Scientific Advisor Vijay Raghavan?

Did BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy mistakenly identify and target Indian PM’s Principal Scientific Advisor Dr. Vijay Raghavan? 

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At 9.28 am on January 2, 2021, BJP leader and MP Subramanian Swamy leveled a serious allegation against the Prime Minister’s Office by tweeting,

“I am amazed that PM has made Dr. Vijay Raghavan as Principal Adviser on Science in the PMO. This Raghavan besides being a Rotten’s Chela was on the Chinese Wuhan Bat virus project and brought the Chinese to Nagaland to experiment on the Bats without Govt clearance.” 

Predictably, Swami, who has 10.1 million Twitter followers, was flooded with responses, with many asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to remove Raghavan from the post and find out who had advised him to appoint such an “anti-national” person.    

Equally predictably, Swamy, who also happens to be a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Health and Family Welfare, now emboldened by his supporters, tweeted subsequently, “PSA Vijay Raghavan wrote to DRDO Chairman on July 27 that scientific departments do not require to go to the HMSC!! Mr. Vijay Raghavan stressed that COVID-19 research can be with the guidelines issued by a vaccine task force constituted by him!! Wuhan bat virus hero!

“I will file with CBI a complaint on the Nagaland Bat Virus illegal study conducted by Tata’s NCBS in collaboration with Wuhan University and PLA. The US Army may also have been involved with NCBS. It is completely anti-national & illegal since mandatory clearance from ICMR was not taken.

“Nagaland Bat Virus Study was not submitted to the ICMR of Health Ministry-which is mandatory. The Report of the illegal study was signed by Bat woman She Zhengli of Wuhan U and Uma Ramakrishnan of Tata’s NCBS. This was admitted when questioned by me during a Standing Committee hearing”

Raghavan had also been the target of Swamy’s attacks, though indirectly without being named in the development of the anti-Covid-19 vaccines. As the Principal Scientific Advisor, Raghavan is believed to be playing an important role in clearing the anti-Covid vaccines.  

Swamy has been upset that the government cleared without posing many difficulties to the Serum Institute of India’s Covidshield vaccine (originally developed by AstraZeneca Plc, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, and the University of Oxford), whereas it delayed the clearance of the indigenous Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine. And this clearance is conditional.  

Swamy tweeted, again on January 2, how the Government of India is wrong in granting an emergency use license for the Coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. His tweet read, “World Health Organisation (WHO) has not cleared AstraZeneca even for emergency uses!! Are Indians going to be Guinea pigs?

He further alleged, “I am shocked to learn the Bharat Biotech a swadeshi company has already done trials on 13, 000 persons in phase III. The Angrez vaccine has been tested only on 1200 persons. Yet the Angrez has got the contract and swadeshi in the ditch.”

Swamy’s supporters allege that in the development of Serum Institute of India’s Covidshield vaccine, Tatas and Bill Gate Foundation have contributed funds. 

Incidentally, Swamy has been a bitter critic of Ratan Tata for a long time and supported Cyrus Mistri in his fight against the former on the issue of control over the Tata group. He will like to make us believe that Raghavan is Ratan Tata’s “chela”. According to him, “You (Raghavan) have trust with Rotten Tata that had TIFR of which he is Chairman collaborate with Wuhan University in this research?” 

How credible are Swamy’s charges? Many observers, including some senior Government of India officials that this writer talked to, think Swamy is wrong on facts. They point out that the production of vaccines in any country does not require the approval of the WHO, which, in any case, is not a statutory organization. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has also got approval in the UK. 

Similarly, its production in India does not damage the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) campaign as it is being produced by Serum Institute of India, a cent percent Indian organization that is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, supplying various vaccines to countries all over the world.  

Swamy’s linking of Raghavan to the study of Bats in Nagaland is also said to be incorrect. Apparently, Swamy’s allegations are based on a report of The Hindu newspaper early last year, a report that was denied subsequently. 

The report was on a study made in 2019 (much before the outbreak of the pandemic) on the members of the Naga tribes, who, unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, remain immune to viral transmissions between bats and human beings in areas where they come into close contact. 

It was found how these tribes have Ebola antibodies. Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever in human beings, one of the major causes of death in some parts of Africa between 2013 and 2016. In fact, this study, published in the reputed PLOS journal, was expected to help explore the prevention of diseases like Ebola.

This study was conducted by researchers from the Bengaluru-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), which comes under the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) as well as China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, Duke-NUS of Singapore, and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, US.

The Hindu report appeared to link the development to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, saying the study was being probed as some of the researchers involved belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. 

It was said, as per rules, any study relating to the health if collaborated with foreign organizations, needed the clearance of the Union Health Ministry’s Screening Committee (HMSC). But this was not done in this case. 

However, the NCBS had clarified through a statement that scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were not directly involved in the study (they were only the co-authors) in Nagaland and that it did not get any funds for this project directly from any foreign source. 

Raghavan’s alleged pro-China tilt is also suspect, given his otherwise illustrious biodata and record as the principal Scientific Advisor. In fact, it was Raghavan who wanted the Chinese vendors to be excluded from any 5G network in India. In 2019, he, as the head of a high-level committee on 5G, had made it clear that India should “go for (5G) trials immediately with all except for Chinese vendors. For China, we should prepare pros and cons for going with them”.

It may be noted that before being appointed as the Principal Scientific Advisor in April 2018, he had served as the Secretary to the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India(2013-18). Prior to that, he was the Director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the interim head of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem).

The PSA chairs the Prime Minister’s Science Technology and Innovation Council whose mandate is to advise the PM of all matters related to science, technology, and innovation and monitor implementation. 

Vijay Raghavan’s contributions to science, as a developmental biologist, have been recognized widely. He is a Distinguished Alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, the prestigious institute’s highest honor. He was awarded the ‘Padma Shri’ in 2013 by the Government of India. He is a fellow of The Indian Science Academies. Raghavan is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Thus, nowhere in his career-path, there seems to be any China-link. 

Is it then possible that Swamy is confusing PSA Raghavan with another Indian scientist carrying the same name, who has academic links with China? He is James McGill Professor, Vijaya Raghavan. He is currently President of the Canadian Society of Bioengineering (CSBE). 

Raghavan’s bio on the university website says, “He continues to maintain links with previous collaborators in China, India, and Brazil, establish new partnerships and links and seek funding for projects in India, Senegal, and Thailand.”

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Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: prakash.nanda@hotmail.com
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