I found two news items on the same day. The first was that China plans to acquire Syngenta, a Swiss biotech GM company. The second was that India has decided to keep in abeyance the further testing and introduction of GM mustard. Could there be a causal relation involved in the fact that the two different approaches have resulted in China getting rich and India remaining poor in the course of the last four decades? China eagerly embraces new technologies, new ways of organising the economy and so on. Above all,
China and the Chinese have embraced the ideas of change and progress. And the embrace is represented by a broad consensus across their society—or so it seems. In our case, we simply do not seem to know what we want. But we have many loud elements who are quite certain about what they do not want. And GM crops fall in the category of items that are hysterically opposed by a few sections of people. And that is sufficient reason for delays, postponements, discussions, debates, committees, protests, litigations and muddied editorials.
Just consider the anomalies:
Our farmers seem to like Bt cotton.
Bt has entered our domestic food chain as cottonseed is fed to cattle who provide us with milk and dairy products.
We merrily consume imported GM soya and other crops. This implies that we support the prosperity of farmers outside India!
We are aware or we should be aware that Bangladesh next door is going ahead with GM brinjal. Can the BSF keep the GM brinjal seeds from entering India?
We are quite happy travelling to countries where GM foods are the rule and we happily eat in those countries.
But… but… we dither and postpone the growing of GM food crops in our own country even if someone points out that yields will increase, farmers will prosper, pesticide consumption will decrease and so on.
Till now, most of the shrill anti-GM rhetoric would be accompanied by attacks on the convenient devil—the evil multi-national, Monsanto. So naïve people like me assumed that if the GM crop was created by a desi outfit, it would be welcomed. GM mustard is not even the child of the Indian private sector, which some may despise. It has come out of the laboratories of the venerable state-owned, state-controlled Delhi University. But that too does not seem to help the hapless seed. It is opposed and its introduction stopped. And China is acquiring the world’s second largest GM giant. Are they stupid? Do we know something that they don’t? If we do, why then are we so much poorer than China?
Here are some explanations which may sound bizarre but are perhaps plausible because our situation is so bizarre:
Foreign edible oil companies are funding the opponents of GM mustard. They are worried that India may produce more of its own edible oil needs and hence import less from them.
Pesticide manufacturers are funding the opponents of GM crops. After all, many GM crops are specifically programmed to need less pesticide. So, this will result in pesticide consumption coming down in India.
American universities are funding the opponents of GM crops. This is because they know that over time, talented Indian scientists will get frustrated and migrate to America adding to that country’s human capital.
The venerable Intelligence Bureau of the venerable government of India is funding the opponents of GM crops. They have figured out that this is the best way to ensure that Bangladesh progresses faster than India. This will result not only in Bangladeshi migrants going back to their country, but in large numbers of Indians going to Bangladesh. We want to create a headache for our neighbour!
There exists a mysterious “Mother of all NGOs” in an unspecified Western capital which has as its objective the sustenance of hundreds of NGOs in India with the express purpose of keeping India poor. After all, if Indians became rich, then how can sentimental Westerners continue to feel good that they are better off, that they should be patronising Indian NGOs and feeling sorry for India’s poor?
There exists a mysterious religious sect in India which does not want Indians to have access to GM drugs and GM processes when Indians fall ill with tough diseases. They believe that such medical intervention should be reserved for foreigners and for those Indians who can afford medical treatment abroad. This is enshrined in our Constitution. And if it is not so enshrined, then we must suitably amend our noble Constitution.
If one takes a journey through the by-lanes of the last 69 years of our history, several interesting facts come to light. We were the last country in the world to introduce television. We were the last country in the world to introduce colour television. We were the last country in the world to introduce trucks with power-steering and power brakes. We were the last country in the world to introduce cell-phones. Now, the fact is that most Indians seem to be happy with televisions, colour televisions, power steering and cell phones. But one can argue that in their absence, Indians would have been purer and less contaminated. The happiness and welfare of citizens are secondary considerations. Their purity and simplicity takes precedence.
We are doubtless celebrating the fact that the Chinese are buying a GM company. We are doubtless looking forward to the future where we will import GM foods from China, further worsening our trade deficit with that rich and impure country. Let me close with one more outlandish and bizarre possibility: Indians are secretly rooting for China’s success and are hoping that India will always be the last in adopting modern technologies and will remain poor for generations to come. Aha! Methinks I have identified the contemporary Indian consensus.
The author is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur