New Delhi: Biologist P.M. Bhargava said on Thursday that he will return his Padma Bhushan award in protest at what he called the increasing interference of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the functioning of one of India’s premier scientific agencies.

“There are many reasons that have led me to the decision. The current government is not on the path of democracy, but more of a Hindu autocracy and this is completely unacceptable," said Bhargava, former director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.

Bhargava said he was concerned about the increased interference of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in the functioning of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories.

Bhargava’s statement came after a group of scientists from institutions across the country sent a letter to president Pranab Mukherjee expressing concern about the rise of intolerance, including armed attacks on rationalists.

“We see this as taking our country, which has a rich heritage and cultural diversity, backwards. We are happy to see your advice to people to show respect for all thoughts," the letter said. “We urge you to take serious note of these developments and initiate suitable actions."

The letter has been signed by scientists from several institutions, including the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Inter-University for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

“A highly polarised community is like a nuclear bomb close to criticality. It can explode any time and drive the nation to utter chaos. This is a highly unstable atmosphere and we should do everything in our hands to defuse the disparity, and enlighten society in scientific spirit," said the letter which has been put up online.

“The main motivation of the petition was to join in other concerned people in voicing the concern and anguish over the current state of very disturbing happenings. Scientists generally seem to remain aloof from the wider social issues, and some of us felt it is high time that we, as concerned scientists, joined the mainstream enlightened public discourse," Naresh Dadhich, former director and emeritus professor, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUC AA), Pune, and M.A. Ansari, chair, Jamia Millia Islamia, wrote in a mail to Mint.