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UPDATED: In an unusual move, organizers postpone India's major annual science conference

In an unprecedented move, organizers of the annual Indian Science Congress have postponed the prestigious event just days before it was supposed to begin. The move apparently reflects concerns that students at the university hosting the congress would stage protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was scheduled to open the event.

More than 10,000 scientists were expected to attend the 105th congress, a 5-day gathering at Osmania University in Hyderabad in southern India. But just 12 days before its 3 January 2018 start, organizers announced they had “indefinitely postponed” the event and that a “further course of action" will be announced. On 28 December, organizers said the meeting would be held at the Manipur University in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, a state that has never hosted the event. The exact new date of the congress has not been determined, but it is likely to be held in March 2018.

The decision to postpone the Congress was “due to certain issues [on] the campus,” the Indian Science Congress Association in Kolkata said in a statement.The group pushed back, however, on reports that organizers were worried that students opposed to the Modi government’s policies would try to disrupt the proceedings, stating that the “postponement has no relation to the … Prime Minister’s visit to the event.” 

“I am disappointed and not happy with the situation,” says nanotechnologist Ashutosh Sharma, secretary of India’s Department of Science Technology in New Delhi, which helps partially fund the congress.

“The loss of face is immense and the so-called security issues do not amount to much,” complained an editorial in The Indian Express. “[A] few students, belonging to Dalit, backward, minority and left-wing groups, are expected to demonstrate against the prime minister … but a campus is where feelings and arguments can and should run high. It is the crucible of future politics, and politicians should engage with student protesters rather than seek insulation from them.”

*Update, 28 December, 8:45 a.m.: This story has been updated with information about the potential date and location of the next congress.