A lotus for Modi, with love from Manipur

This bit of news is so chock full of metaphors that I’m almost laughing out loud. Annotated excerpts from ‘CSIR’s new lotus variety ‘Namoh 108’ a ‘grand gift’ to PM Modi: Science Minister‘, The Hindu, August 19, 2023:

It’s a triviality today that the Indian government ministers’ relentless exaltation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not spontaneity so much as an orchestrated thing to keep his name in the news without him having to interact with the press, and to constantly reinforce the impression that Modi is doing great work. And this “Namoh 108” drives home how the political leadership of the scientific enterprise has been pressed to this task.

Also, Jitendra Singh hasn’t been much of a science minister: almost since the day he took charge of this ministry, he has been praising his master in almost every public utterance and speech. Meanwhile, the expenditure on science and research by the government he’s part of has fallen, pseudoscience is occupying more space in several spheres (including at the IITs), and research scholars continue to have a tough time doing their work.

As likely as the flower’s discovery many years ago in Manipur is a coincidence vis-à-vis the violence underway in the northeastern state, it’s just as hard to believe government officials are not speaking up about it now to catapult it into the news – to highlight something else more benign about Manipur and to give it a BJP connection as well: the lotus has 108 petals and the party symbol is a lotus.

(Also, this is the second connection in recent times between northeast India and India as a whole in terms of the state seeing value in a botanical resource, and proceeding to extract and exploit it. In 2007, researchers found the then-spiciest chilli variety in India’s northeast. By 2010, DRDO had found a way to pack it into grenades. In 2016, a Centre-appointed committee considered these grenades as alternatives to the use of pellet guns in the Kashmir Valley.)

It seems we’re sequencing the genomes of and conducting more detailed study of only those flowers that have a Hindu number of petals. Woe betide those that have 107, 109 or even a dozen, no matter that – short of the 108 petals conferring a specific benefit to the lotus plant (apparently not the case) – this is an accident of nature. Against the backdrop of the Nagoya Protocol, the Kunming-Montreal pact, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and issues of access and benefit sharing, India – and all other countries – should be striving to study (genetically and otherwise) and index all the different biological resources available within their borders. But we’re not. We’re only interested in flowers with 108 petals.

Good luck to children who will be expected to draw this in classrooms. Good luck also to other lotuses.

I’m quite certain that someone in that meeting would have coughed, sneezed, burped, farted or sniffed before that individual said “Om Namaha Vasudeva” out loud. I’m also sure that, en route to the meeting, and aware of its agenda, the attendees would have heard someone retching, hacking or spitting. “Kkrkrkrkrkrhrhrhrhrhrhrthphoooo 108” is more memorable, no?

So there was a naming committee! I’ll bet 10 rupees that after this committee came up with “Namoh”, it handed the note to Singh, added the footnote about its imperfect resemblance to “Namo”, and asked for brownie points.