DAXSLY – Bharat Ratna for Swaminathan

Lest we forget – THE GREAT GENE ROBBERY by Claude Alvares…

Source (with many more reasons why MSS cannot be given the Bharat Ratna) at http://swamiscapers.blogspot.com/

The Great Gene Robbery

(First published by the Illustrated Weekly of India in its issue dated March 23, 1986

By Claude Alvares

In 1982, Dr M S Swaminathan withdrew from his position as Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SACC) and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission – he was also earlier secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture – and defected to join the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based at Los Banos in the Philippines as Director-General. The word ‘defected’ is used here on purpose: in no other country of the world, would a scientist in such a strategically important position, privy to all the country’s scientific secrets particularly of those related to food, be permitted to leave and overnight become the employee of an institution controlled by two private foundations so closely allied to American capitalism and US foreign policy interests.

IRRI had been set up in 1960 as part of America’s efforts to control and direct rice research in Asia, even though American is hardly a rice eating country.

A famous plant-breeder had once said, in regard to rice: ‘He who controls the supply of rice will control the destiny of the entire Asiatic orbit. The most important thing to the majority of the Asia is not capitalism or socialism or any other political ideology but food which means life itself, and in most of Asia, food is rice.’

Earl Butz, a former US Secretary of Agriculture, is notorious for one sentence that he uttered in a course of an otherwise utterly insignificant life: ‘If food can be used as a weapon we would be happy to use it.’

And today, as we near the end of the twentieth century, we have to admit that the research concerning the two major cereals that rule our lives – wheat and rice – is wholly directed and controlled by institutions set up under American imperialism.

In many ways Dr Swaminathan’s appointment to IRRI would have been considered a demotion. While in India, he had lorded it over a scientific establishment that employed thousands of scientists, in the Philippines he would have not more than 200 scientists under him. The principal compensation, however, was the money, income tax free.

Already this international institute, always run by American directors, was facing the collapse of its High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) strategy, as seed after seed fell victim to waves of pest epidemics. Urgently required was a massive expansion of IRRI’s rice germplasm, genes from which were essential for passing on resistance to the HYVs. The largest collection of rice varieties, of rice germplasm, remained in the Indian sub continent. Swaminathan’s appointment was critical to this quest.

The IRRI is not a premier institute of science. It is a privately-controlled agricultural research centre. Even so, it is difficult to conceive of a man with Swaminathan’s record becoming its director general. Unless of course the person being appointed is known more for his ability to get things done than for his scientific work. Certainly no scientist with an equivalent scientific record would have found an appointment as director of, say, the Max Planck Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), or the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). I ask knowledgeable people in the Philippines how Swaminathan could have been appointed to the post of director general of IRRI. The most plausible answer was also the funniest.

There were apparently three applicants for the post. The first, a vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation, insisted on coming to the institute with both his wife and his mistress, if he got the job. The second candidate, from West Germany, was found, upon examination, not to have a degree that he had stitched on to his name. In comparison, Dr M S Swaminathan whom an article in the 1979 Yearbook of Science and the Future, published by the Encyclopedia Britannica, put in the company of Paul Kammerer and Cyril Burt, two of the leading scientific frauds of the twentieth century, appeared white as snow.

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