BJP MPs forced to shun Monsanto junket, but Sena still on

Parliamentarians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been forced to forgo a US junket sponsored by genetically modified (GM) seed giant Monsanto, as it offended the larger Sangh Parivar of whom the BJP is the political arm.

The BJP has further asked its MPs not to accept any invitations for foreign tours without permission from the party high command (See: BJP, Shiv Sena MPs all packed for Monsanto-sponsored US junket).

Ahead of the elections in Maharashtra, a group of 15 MPs from the BJP and its state ally the Shiv Sena were packed for a week-long US junket on a 'study tour' fully sponsored by giant Monsanto.

Monsanto is the biggest purveyor of genetically modified foods in India; but the MPs seem to see no conflict of interest in accepting the company's hospitality.

According to a Monsanto spokesperson, the trip will cost the company an estimated $6,000 (Rs3.64 lakh) per head for travel, food and accommodation.

If the BJP MPs have now opted out, it is more for political reasons than because they had any ethical qualms about accepting corporate hospitality on such a lavish scale – something that would be unthinkable in a mature democracy.

The report of the tour sparked anger in the BJP aligned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy tweeted, "Shocking BJP MPs going on a fully funded tour of Monsanto to visit its headquarters".

Three hours later, he again tweeted, "BJP leadership has conveyed to me that the BJP MPs told not to go on Monsanto tour. MPs told not to accept foreign tours without PM yes".

Gurumurthy is also co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which forced the government to cancel the field trials of 15 (GM) crops last month.

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav also tweeted that no BJP MP will be part of the delegation sponsored by Monsanto.

While the four BJP MPs - all first-timers - have opted out, the Shiv Sena's 11 are probably already on the plane and en route to the US.

The MPs are scheduled to attend a 'Farm Progress Show' in Iowa, then visit the Monsanto headquarters in St Louis, Missouri.

On 29 July, Environment & Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar overruled the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on allowing field trials of Monsanto seeds.

He also put a halt to the field trials of 15 GM crops, including brinjal and rice, after protests from farmers and activists.

The 'Farm Progress Show' is a three-day event that has been held in Iowa since 1953 and attracts thousands of farmers and delegates every year.

"We will visit their plant to see the latest technology related to the agriculture sector," Shiv Sena MP from Buldhana, Maharashtra, Prataprao Ganapatrao Jadhav, said in an interview.

In an unusual show of rectitude, BJP MP from Aligarh Satish Gautam had already opted out of the visit. He said BJP President Amit Shah has asked all the party MPs in Uttar Pradesh to prepare for the by-elections to a dozen Assembly seats in the state. "There will be a by-election to the Noida Assembly seat and I have decided to devote my time to election work," he said.

Monsanto said invites had been sent to "18 to 20 people". MPs were invited ''on the basis of their interest in the use of technology in agriculture''.