Political Line newsletter by Varghese K George

Political Line | India’s wheat export, Tamil nationalism and more

Food for thought - Why India wants to export wheat, but then restricts it

India’s abrupt decision to restrict the export of wheat, roughly a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that the country was ready to supply food to the world shows two sides of the same nationalist coin.

.In the first instance, it was a projection of India’s capacity - Mr. Modi has been vocal about it, whether in the context of vaccine manufacturing or satellite launches. Mr. Modi reiterated the Indian stand that WTO rules were restricting India’s export of food grain to the disadvantage of the country and the world. The second act, that of restricting exports, is driven by the instinct that there is no free trade at the cost of national priorities. India itself is reeling from severe inflation.

The Modi government had sought to free up trade in farm produce through three farm laws in 2020 but they ran into rough weather. The laws were withdrawn following intense protests. This attempt was to encourage private companies to enter the agricultural sector in a big way, which many feared would weaken government procurement schemes based on minimum support price.

The Modi government promotes Indian companies, but is wary of foreign companies, in its model of nationalist capitalism. Its approach towards global trade follows the same logic - trade is subordinate to national priorities. In the post-Covid world, this is nothing unique, as all countries follow a similar approach. China supports the Indian position on restricting exports. However, developed countries want India to revise its position.

Battle for the Hindu mind in Maharashtra

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray | Photo Credit: KUNAL PATIL

The notion that the fundamental political cleavage in India is between Hindutva and its opponents finds challenge in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena and the BJP, once the closest of partners, are now locked in a bitter battle in which both sides frequently engage in personal attacks against leaders. There is, of course, a strong ideological element too - both sides claim to be the real champions of Hindutva and accuse the other faction of being infidels.

“Our Hindutva is gada (mace) dhari and not gadha (donkey) dhari. The gadha with us was thrown out around 2.5 years ago,” Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray said, alluding to the fallout with its former ally, the BJP. He was addressing a public rally - the first after he became Chief Minister in 2019. Soon, his predecessor and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis hit back, saying that Mr. Thackeray spoke in the Congress’ voice and that the CM’s late father, Sena founder Bal Thackeray, could never have imagined this day.

The steady, southern march of Hindutva

Amid cries of resistance in southern States to the promotion of Hindi by the BJP, the party and its vision of India is making constant inroads into the region. In Karnataka, the BJP government took the Ordinance route to promulgate a law that restricts religious.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah focussed on Hindu-Muslim divisions during speeches in Telangana. And in Tamil Nadu, which has a DMK government, beef consumption is now a contentious question.

Federalism Tract

A.G. Perarivalan playing ‘parai’ in front of his house at Jolarpet in Tirupattur district.

A.G. Perarivalan playing ‘parai’ in front of his house at Jolarpet in Tirupattur district. | Photo Credit: VENKATACHALAPATHY C

In two judgements this week, the Supreme Court invoked federalism and the rights of the States. While releasing A G Perarivalan, a convict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the SC upheld the State’s powers to grant remission.

The Tamil Nadu government had already recommended the release of all convicts in the case in 2018. With the SC releasing Perarivalan, the focus is now on them. TN Chief Minister M K Stalin is personally involved in the campaign for their release. He visited the released convict and cheered the SC order as victory for federalism. According to him, the release of Perarivalan was not just a victory for an individual but served as an “example for federalism and the autonomy of States.”

The Congress and the BJP were on the same side on the issue, opposing the SC view and pitting themselves against the former’s allies in Tamil Nadu. The Congress and the BJP see India as a unified nation and reject sub-nationalisms of any kind. Their approaches, rhetoric and use of state violence to enforce national unity could vary in intensity and detail, but the fundamental principle is the same. This is notwithstanding Rahul Gandhi’s recent grandiloquence on federalism, diversity and regional autonomy. 

It is telling that the convicted assassins of a former Prime Minister, no less, have become a rallying point for Tamil nationalism. Political mobilisation can legitimise and sanctify violence. Cow vigilantes are the warriors of the Hindu nation; assassins of a former PM are the torchbearers of the Tamil Nation. It’s only a matter of time before Perarivalan becomes a star spokesperson for many causes. His innocence or complicity is beside the point. The SC is not taking a view on that matter either. The TN government’s position, however, is guided by public opinion- which leaves us with the question of how the state should respond to public opinion in dealing with illegalities. What if public opinion calls for certain illegal actions in advancement of the nation?

In a second case, the SC held that the Centre and the States have “equal, simultaneous and unique powers” to make laws on Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Talking of taxation powers - is there a difference between taxation and extortion? Or is it all a matter of perspective - like we noted in the discussion above regarding the legitimacy of violence? 

Several armed groups, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN-IM], one of the main groups with which the Government of India is engaged in peace talks, collect taxes from traders and vehicles in Nagaland. The State Government ordered on Thursday that all “police check gates”, except those at the inter-State boundaries, shall be shut to “curb illegal collection of money from vehicles on roads”. Naga groups see it differently. The NSCN (IM) is clear that it has the “inherent right of any sovereign people and nation” to collect taxes from the people and commercial establishments.

Political power shifting north

I have long been writing about the impending delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies that will disadvantage southern States and shift more political power to the north, west and east. For instance, see this 2018 article. The apportionment of representation among States, purely based on population should be avoided, as Gopalkrishna Gandhi argues in this piece.

National Education Policy

The National Education Policy, in which the Centre claims increasing power on the subject of education, remains a bone of contention but Kerala is trying to make the best of it. This is yet another demonstration of the strength of centralising narratives.

Cross-border charity

Muslims in Malappuram - where they are a significant majority - came together to support a Hindu in distress.

Cross border charity is a contentious question in today’s India. Restrictions on foreign contribution to the Indian voluntary sector are growing. The underlying concern is that the nation may be undermined through such contributions- they promote religious conversions, or political and social agendas that hamper the progress of the country. It is only reasonable to assume that Christian or Muslim charity is indeed inspired by religious faith. A large segment of religious Christians and Muslims do believe that turning non-believers into believers is their pious duty, as much as donating to charity.

Encounters with Christianity and Islam have resulted in significant social and intellectual churn in Indian society. Whether such churns harm Hindu society or not is a matter of perspective. Proponents of Hindutva believe that Christian, Islamic and western influences harm Hindu society and resist it. Not just inter-religious marriages, even inter-religious charity is something to guard against.

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Printable version | May 21, 2022 7:00:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-wheat-export-tamil-nationalism-and-more/article65439261.ece