Column: The business of manufacturing dissent

Jun 24 2014, 08:12 IST
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SummaryRelentless opposition, as is the case with Greenpeace’s protests against GM crops, is undemocratic

A crackdown on non-governmental organisations like Greenpeace, allegedly sought by the Intelligence Bureau according to reports in The Indian Express, for being a threat to India’s economic security has been criticised as an attempt to silence opposition to government policies. Is it?

Dissent is essential to democracy. It is the people’s right to vent their discontent. A caring government is expected to address their concerns. A large number of people seeking redress for a grievance give rise to people’s movements. I place organisations like Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, which organised labourers in Rajasthan to demand minimum wages through the right to information, and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information in this category. The countrywide agitation of farmers against corporates acquiring swathes of arable land on the cheap for special economic zones may have impeded industrial development but was not a threat to economic security. It was venting of genuine anger.

Are NGOs like Greenpeace people’s movements? No. They are multinational organisations with multi-million dollar budgets, in the business of manufacturing dissent. Their agendas are imported. They are vexatiously persistent. Compromise is alien to them. They will stubbornly agitate on an issue even when facts do not support their stand.

Imported agendas should not be deemed as suspect just because they are of alien origin. I certainly support the Western campaign against use of child or bonded labour in exported products, whether carpets or garments, because our own society, government and officials are not quite sensitive about such issues.

But some of the issues that NGOs like Greenpeace articulate do not stand the test of reasonableness. Evidence should be the sole criterion for judging the usefulness of a technology. Take the case of genetically-modified (GM) crops. The evidence so far says they are not unsafe. Climate change concerns make their adoption necessary. Unlike the Green Revolution, which was high-input, high output agriculture, we need to move to farming which is low in use of resources and gives high output.

Greenpeace is vehemently opposed to GM crops. It has been trying to discredit Bt cotton. Bt technology, approved for commercial use in cotton in 2002, has made India the second-largest producer and exporter, from being a net importer. According to K R Kranti, head of the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research, Bt cotton has reduced pesticide use for control of bollworm by 90%. ‘As an entomologist

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