Now, Parthenium is called Congress weed or Congress Grass, do you know why? As far as I could gather, the white flower looks like a Gandhi cap …It is also called 'Safed topi 'or Gandhi Bhooti!!! But I could not see any resemblance, Was it because Congress was in power when the wheat import took place?? (Or maliciously meant to mean - as spread out & ingrained as the Congress party in India?)
SO what happened in 1956?? After partition, Western Punjab, India's wheat bowl had gone to Pakistan. A spell of successive bad monsoons added, there was a severe food crisis by 1955, reminiscent of the Bengal famine. India had no options. Chinese were already starving. Russia, India’s quasi-ally didn't have enough for its own people. Europe was just recovering from World War II and could not help. India didn't have any foreign currency to buy food even if it were available. Millions of people would have to be left to starve, if the US had not came to India’s rescue. That was how the famous PL 480 wheat import deal with US was signed by India in 1956.
US prohibited mango import from India for many long years. To tell you an interesting story, in 1960, during a state visit by Nehru, Alphonso mangoes imported from Bombay were served for Nehru’s state dinner with JFK by BK Nehru, the Indian ambassador. There was a caveat, after dinner, all seeds were to be collected & handed over to the USDA for incineration. Can you believe that these things happen??
Last month - May 2007, heralded the lifting of the US ban and the ushering of the mango madness (I agree – it is madness to buy 12 mangoes for $38) as they call it out here in USA….Why were mangoes banned for so many years? Apparently certain ‘not so good’ pesticides were used by Indian farmers. Nowadays these mangoes are especially ‘gamma ray irradiated’ at Kalpakkam or BARC or someplace to make them fit for (As far as I know only homesick desi’s eat them for now, even at $38/box) consumption.
So it was probably fitting, when India had its turn, asking US to limit Parthenium in its wheat exports or face non participation in wheat tenders…Incredibly the US export wheat samples has 12,000 weeds per 200 tones as against the 200 weeds permitted!!
The devil is in the details - Parthenium hysterophorus is a weed that was imported into India along with the PL 480 US wheat seeds in the 50s. The weed has since grown into uncontrollable proportions invading million of hectares of uncultivated wastelands, roadsides, railway tracks, etc. The fast growing weed is a nuisance in public parks, residential colonies and orchards. Not only that, it causes health hazards such as skin allergy, hay fever and asthma in human beings and is toxic to livestock. It squeezes grasslands and pastures, reducing the fodder supply. Scientists describe it as a "poisonous, allergic and aggressive weed posing a serious threat to human beings and livestock. The early Sixties saw massive quantities of wheat shipped to India under the "Public Loan 480" (PL 480) plan of the U.S. Seeds of the noxious weed, Parthenium, which subsequently became a menace in the wheat fields of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, also got shipped along. Chandrabhan Prasad also provides other details in his article ‘Untrustworthy Indians”
And a bit about the Alphonso mango itself – It gets its name from Alfonso de Albuqerque of Portugal who brought the mango to India in the 16th century. Called Apoos in Bombay, it is grown in the Konkan area and Pune. Picture courtesy Wikipedia
Tailpiece - I hope the USDA which was quite worried about flies & pesticides in Indian mangoes, can take responsibility for the Parthenium eradication in India!!!