Germ of an idea

The excitement is mounting. Who will win? Will it be Lactobacillus or will E Coli beat it at the finish? The nation awaits the results with bated breath, for the winner will be awarded the coveted title of National Microbe. Just like we have a national animal, a national bird and a national flower, we shall shortly be blessed with a national microbe.

The Centre for Environment Education, aided and abetted by the ministry of environment and forests, wants to designate one out of eight candidates as the national germ. Don't believe me? Please visit the website, which lists the biodata of the aspirant bugs. You can cast your vote there for the microbe of your choice. At the time of writing this election story, Lactobacillus was the clear favourite, winning 28% of the vote, beating second-placed E Coli, who has only 18.9% of the vote. Rhizobium, with 16.3%, is in third place.

Do go out there and vote. In times to come, when you dandle your grandson on your knee and he asks you in his childish treble, "Where were you, grandpa, when the nation chose its microbe?" you should not stutter or blush — instead you should look the little blighter straight in the eye and proclaim, "I voted for Lactobacillus Delbrueckii and look how magnificently he has fulfilled all our aspirations since then. Hic." That last bit would be the beer. After all, the only reason for voting for Lacto is because he's used in the production of beer, wine and cider.

But I'm getting ahead of the story. Among the other contenders is Spirogyra, described on the website as "a cheerful green hero which floats easily on freshwater". A bit like Jairam Ramesh I thought, but can he float on freshwater? Then there's the rather plump-looking Wild Yeast, which, according to the website, "secretly makes the idli batter rise." Could it be a microbial version of Jayalalithaa? E Coli proclaims, à la Nitin Gadkari "I am not all mass and no substance". The other microbes in the running are Bacteriophage T4, Blue Mold, Rhizobium and Mucor and the only interesting thing about them is that Bacteriophage T4 attacks E Coli, which gives this election that extra frisson of danger. Also, be warned that you could get into trouble if you insult the national germ, like the cartoonist accused of insulting national symbols.

Wait a bit though. We are being asked to vote for these microbes, but do we know their real antecedents? As a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena supporter asked me, can the ministry of environment guarantee that not one of these bacteria has migrated from Bihar? A concerned voter said it was unreasonable to expect him to vote without knowing the caste of the microbe. A BJP fan asked voters to be resolute in rejecting pseudo-secular germs. A Trinamool Congress chap said he would support the microbe opposed to foreign investment in the retail sector.

Be that as it may, the government has been heartened by the keen interest shown in the selection of the national bug. "After this grand success, we plan to select other important national symbols," said a guy who claimed to be the chief microbe election commissioner, adding that selecting our national disease, national scam and national pain in the backside are next on the list. He also clarified that, in spite of popular demand, there was no plan to add any politician's name, not even from the Trinamool Congress, to the list of microbes standing for election.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. Views expressed by the author are personal.


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