[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollowing the article, “Swadeshis are to GM crops what Church was to Galilean telescope,” a debate was launched on Facebook, challenging those who disagreed with the proposition to come up with theses that substantiated their apprehensions. As expected, links to several paranoid websites were furnished, whose owners were exposed one by one as heads of interest groups or plain quacks. Not one dissertation from the genetics department of a university came forth. Finally when a couple of .edu and .gov sites were produced as ‘evidence’, they turned out to be spaces allotted, perhaps inadvertently, to lobbyists who wantonly misused their columns to peddle conspiracy theories. This news portal’s nuanced stand on this issue is pro-science and pro-state, not pro-corporation, which is a difficult proposition for the naysayers with half-baked information to argue against. So the more we showed scientists talking science, the more activists latched on to examples of evil companies! This has been the story of genetically modified crops in the world in general and India in particular. Breast-beating activists have taken to the streets, reaching out to the people — not an activity that can be expected of scientists who have long reached a consensus through rigorous tests and comprehensive surveys that their products are no more harmful than traditionally grown crops — and giving the public mood an unscientific turn. As a result, swayed people have extrapolated data of deaths from indebtedness, an economic problem, to botany, genetics and biotechnology — science subjects they have vague ideas about — and condemned the knowledge altogether. Where tests have not been conclusive, the government can be asked to put regulations in place, mentioned in the article referred to above, which interested bidders will have no option but to abide by. As Narendra Modi used to say while issuing clarifications on the allegation of favouritism in Gujarat during the election campaign, once a policy is in place, every citizen — from an ordinary man to a business tycoon — has to pass through the rules for his bid to qualify. Eyesores in the market like the alleged abuser Monsanto can easily be cut to size or not allowed to operate on Indian soil at all by putting such a regime in place. The government of a food-scarce country with a huge population of poor farmers and consumers cannot damn the high-yield, disease-resistant product of science on the altar of politically correct anti-private enterprise propaganda.
As if Greenpeace, now alleged to have been indulging in anti-India activities, were not enough, now we have two more overseas operators to whose tunes our activists dance: Organic Consumers Association, with whom firebrand Vandana Shiva works, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, whose name is a misnomer as it is not a state-run institution but a non-government organisation of self-proclaimed scholars wary of peer reviews. Then we have a debate-averse agriculture ‘expert’ Devinder Sharma, known more for his past associations with Bharat Swabhiman and India against Corruption than for lectures delivered in universities’ departments of agriculture. Given the new government’s palpable motive against disruptive activities, it was surprising that Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar cowered under the pressure of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh to meekly submit that the recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee did not amount to government policy. Is the new dispensation discriminating between ‘our’ and ‘their’ kind of activists: Is bowing to RSS affiliates kosher, but paying heed to communist and socialist brigades sacrilege? Is the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government not aware of the fact that the left and right wing demonstrators had shared stage against GM crops last year? Does the Intelligence Bureau have to send the government yet another inquiry report to project these groups as proxies of interests in Europe and North America that are threatened by the prospect of India’s rise on the world stage? Hope not. There are indeed groups that act as puppets unwittingly. It will be grossly unfair to suggest someone like KN Govindacharya could be furthering foreign interests. In such cases, ideological dogma is the problem. Nevertheless, the prophets of doom, whatever be their political shade, are not likely to please Prime Minister Modi who had just told a congregation of scientists of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research that they needed to explain to the farmer the efficacy of their innovations before his colleague submitted to a Sanghi demand elsewhere. Let’s hope the prime minister’s moral courage prevails over the timidity of the environment minister.