The iconic scientist, who was 98, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work in ensuring India’s food security.
Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and the driving force behind the nation’s “Green Revolution”, passed away in Chennai on September 28. He was 98 and is survived by three daughters.
The celebrated agriculture icon was being treated for age-related illness for quite some time, sources at the Chennai-based M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation said.
Swaminathan was instrumental in introducing industrial farming to India and is best remembered for his groundbreaking work in ensuring the nation’s food security. The Green Revolution, which took off in 1966 when a high-yielding, disease-resistant variant of wheat was shipped into Punjab from Mexico, became an epoch-making event.
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The initiative, now dubbed a transformational era in Indian agriculture, introduced high-yielding cereal varieties and expanded the use of irrigation and fertilizers. Grain production increased exponentially at a time when India was beset with widespread starvation. It turned Punjab and Haryana into bread baskets for wheat and rice production, helping low-income farmers. It rescued the country from an impending mass famine and over-dependence on foreign aid that hindered diplomatic independence.
For his work, Swaminathan was named one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century by Time magazine.
Swaminathan also held administrative positions in various agricultural research institutes in India and served as a top planner at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research between 1972 and 1979. He received the Padma Vibhushan, one of India’s top civilian honours, in 1989. He also served as a lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha.
Tributes flow in
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief at the death of the eminent scientist and said Swaminathan’s work in agriculture was transformative.
“Deeply saddened by the demise of Dr MS Swaminathan Ji. At a very critical period in our nation’s history, his groundbreaking work in agriculture transformed the lives of millions and ensured food security for our nation,” Modi said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
He further said, ”Beyond his revolutionary contributions to agriculture, Dr. Swaminathan was a powerhouse of innovation and a nurturing mentor to many. His unwavering commitment to research and mentorship has left an indelible mark on countless scientists and innovators.” Modi said he would always cherish his conversations with Swaminathan and added that his passion to see India progress was exemplary.
The Congress party paid rich tributes to Swaminathan, describing him as the key scientific architect of the Green Revolution and hailing his contribution to the agriculture sector.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said Swaminathan made India self-sufficient in rice and wheat by the mid-1970s. “He was a great institution builder, an inspiring teacher, a motivational leader, but above all, a man of the greatest humility and sobriety who allowed his achievements both in India and other parts of Asia to speak for themselves,” he said. Ramesh said it was because of him that Indira Gandhi created the Department of Agricultural Research and Education in April 1972. “Keeping in view the imperatives for ecological sustainability, he was the first to call for the Green Revolution to become what he called an EverGreen Revolution,” he noted.
He spent the last three decades propagating this cause, both in government and through the research foundation established by him in Chennai, Ramesh said. “He will remain an iconic figure. I was in regular touch with him and every interaction was a source of great education for me,” he said in a post on X.
Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also condoled Swaminathan’s death.
End of an era
An era of agricultural research, education, and extension marked by disruptive innovations has come to an end with the death of M.S. Swaminathan, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) Director A.K. Singh said.
“In passing away of Prof. Swaminathan, ends an era of agricultural research, education and extension that was full of disruptive innovation. If God appears to poor and hungry in form of bread as said by Mahatma Gandhi, that God is Dr. Swaminathan who should be worshipped by every citizen while taking daily meals,” Singh said in a statement.
Noted farmer leader Rakesh Tikait also paid tribute to Swaminathan. He remembered the iconic scientist saying that India will always remember the positive changes that M.S. Swaminathan brought to the country’s agriculture and farmers.
“The news of the death of famous agricultural scientist Dr MS Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution, is deeply saddening,” Tikait, the national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Kisan Union, posted in Hindi on X. “This country will always remember his contribution to the positive changes to the condition of Indian agriculture and farmers, and for food security. We will all continue this fight for your ideas together.”
Javier Perez de Cuellar, former Secretary General of the United Nations, called Swaminathan “a living legend who will go into the annals of history as a world scientist of rare distinction”.
(with inputs from PTI and AP)