The Prime Minister’s recent revelation that non-government organizations (NGOs) funded by the well-intentioned West are to blame for the mess in Kudankulam and also for stymieing the government’s plan to release Bt brinjal is indicative of the deep crisis of governance facing India today. That the Prime Minister invoked foreign-funded NGOs as an excuse as to why his government has been unable to address either the protests against setting up nuclear power plants in Kudankulam, or the distrust that genetically modified (GM) food seems to inspire, signals a lack of vision that has become all too familiar in the UPA’s second innings.
Both projects are essential in securing India’s future. India will soon become the world’s biggest importer of thermal coal in the face of growing demand and a dearth in domestic supplies, and the country is already dependent on foreign oil. India has to continue to pursue multiple sources of energy to meet its anticipated growth in electricity demand, and nuclear power offers the best—and cleanest—way of weaning ourselves away from our heavy reliance on coal (which accounts for more than half of the nation’s installed power capacity). Similarly, while India produces enough foodgrain to ensure self-sufficiency, it is deficient in the production of pulses, fruits and vegetables. Consumption patterns are also shifting to non-cereal food, which means that production must be ramped up. India would hardly be the first or only country to embrace GM food—countries across the world, from Brazil to Sweden, are growing some versions of GM food. While democratic India cannot dismiss out-of-hand the opposition both measures are facing, the challenge of convincing citizens of the necessity and urgency of adopting them falls to the government.
It is true that a significant amount of the power to push such measures through now rests with state governments, rather than the Centre. With states paralysed by protests and unwilling to risk alienating the electorate by taking steps to institute an unpopular measure, the Centre must pick up the slack and do as needs must. And it isn’t as though the Centre lacks options. It must engage the opposition and impress the importance of these projects on them to secure cooperation. It is simply not enough for the Prime Minister to throw up his hands and blame NGOs for his own government’s inability to get things done.
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