It was heartening to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicate to the nation 35 new crop varieties developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and not Monsanto, the name that spooks red and saffron anti-science and anti-competition communists in India alike, on 29 September. The agriculture sector in India cannot do better with the paranoia that afflicts its loud activists who see ghosts where none exists. The last time when Delhi University professors had come up with a mustard variety, Swadeshi Jagran Manch — of the Sangh Parivar against whose wishes the BJP government would normally not go — had raised a din, leading to a logjam in the introduction of the indigenously developed crop into the fields of India. While an assortment of links from conspiracy theorist websites is forwarded on social media platforms to bolster the argument against genetically modified organisms, there is consensus in the community of agriculture scientists that GM crops pose a threat of no greater degree than traditionally grown crops. In fact, whereas the swadeshi brigade is told time and again that the world has been consuming GMOs for decades, showing no adverse effects, they need to look no further than Gujarat where cash crop cotton’s GM variety has done wonders to both production and the economic status of farmers. It is really sad that a country that saw the regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee clear the cultivation of Bt cotton in 2002 could witness no further progress on the front since then.
At the same time, this is a technology that cannot be allowed to go unregulated, but thanks to fear-mongering activists, farmers in different parts of the country have been reported to be cultivating Bt brinjal illegally. Clearly, farmers are pro-GMO but activists, who duplicitously get funds from the West while cursing the West, are not. One wonders what kind of sympathisers of the peasant community these activists are that they cannot see this economic sector’s lot improve. The leftists of different shades cannot be patriotic either, as the country is having to import 3.3 million tonnes of soybean oil a year made of nothing but GM crops. It is shameful that scientists of the ICAR should develop 5,334 improved field crop varieties only to see their innovations stuck in government files. However, fans of the current dispensation say there is something called a ‘masterstroke’ that Prime Minister Modi often plays. The agriculture sector of the nation awaits one such stroke of political genius by which the high-yield GM crops that are risk-free start getting sown in the fields following the legal route, leaving the schizophrenic lobby dumstruck.