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Co-Written by Madhumita Dutta and Sirisha Naidu

Indians love eating their tangri kebabs i.e.  barbequed chicken drumsticks and the Americans are eager to sell them the millions of tons of chicken legs they have piled up in their freezers. The leaders of the two of the biggest so-called democracies are magnanimously obliging both sellers and clients during Donald Trump’s visit to India between 24-27 February.

While a US-India trade deal is unlikely, India has offered concessions, one of which is cutting tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25% – a move likely to devastate the  country’s small poultry farmers. But then why let such minor details such as thousands of job losses and possibly more farmer suicides get in the way of the latest episode in the Trump-Modi romance.

The Congress-led UPA government had earlier imposed a ban on U.S. poultry since 2007 claiming fear of Avian Influenza, but clearly with a view to protecting the domestic poultry industry. In response, the US filed a complaint against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO).[1] In its ruling in 2014, WTO ruled in favour of the US, which India appealed and lost in 2015.[2] In 2016, the US threatened India with trade sanctions for not complying with the WTO order and sought compensation.[3]The United States of America is the world’s largest poultry meat producer, with 18 percent of global output while India is the fifth largest[4]with a rapidly growing domestic market. The removal of import restrictions would give U.S. poultry producers access to a market of at least US $300 million[5].

Besides chicken legs, India has also offered to open up its dairy market to US imports, which bodes ill for over 73 million marginal and landless farmers, who own at least 2 milch animals (cows, goats) that provides livelihood option throughout the year and is a major contributor to the rural economy.[6]Besides the economic argument,  a sticky point that has been bothering the Modi government is about the feed of the cattle raised in the US. In the land of  ‘holy cow’, where even a mere hint of beef eating or possession of beef  can lead to lynching, especially of Muslims and Dalits[7], it will indeed be rather ironical if milk products from cattle fed on “bovine extract” is sold and consumed in India. One fears for the lives of ‘cannibal’ American cattle,which may face the wrath of religious zealots and lynching mobs of India if US refuses to certify them free of such sacrileges!

Trump’s visit to Modi’s country, of course, is expected to produce an incredible show, even if it is only for the love of tangri kebabs and dairy products. The show line-up includes  a visit  by Donald and Melania Trump to the world famous Taj Mahal,   built by a Mughal king in memory of his wife but which Hindu zealots claim as the site of an ancient Hindu temple. (Maybe POTUS can offer to mediate on this dispute also, along with the one in Kashmir)

Much of the real theatricals are however reserved for Trump’s trip to Ahmedabad, a city that propelled Modi to power and which will host a ‘Kem Cho Trump!’ or Howdy Trump! show.  The preparations include re-laying or widening of 18 roads of 20 kilometers (12 miles) length,  a half a kilometer long  brick wall, city beautification (including planting palm trees) along the road from the airport to the mega cricket stadium that is being built in preparation for the visit. The hastily built wall, in this case, won’t keep the “Mexicans” out, but Indians living in slums. These preparations for a three hour visit by Trump will cost the city a fat sum of approximately Rs. 85 crores ($12 million), which is about 1.5% of the total budget of the state of Gujarat[8]. No matter that 42% of children in Gujarat suffer from stunted growth and that India takes the global top spot for the proportion of child wasting (20.8%), a strong indicator that predicts mortality among children under five and results from acute food shortage[9],[10].

The construction of the wall has also forced the administration to evict the slum dwellers who still insist on being poor and living in slums, even in the ‘achhe din’ (good days) of Modi’s India[11]. But any stray ill-feelings toward the wall should dissipate on seeing the loving hand-painted portraits of the two great leaders and a proud proclamation ‘World Largest Democracy Meet World Oldest Democracy’ (sic).

And while Trump and Modi court each other, we have two parallel stories of crises emerging in the countries they rule at their whim. In the US it is the cruel treatment of migrants from Central America fleeing economic and physical violence and low wage growth.[12]In  India, the abrogation of Article 370  has made life even more miserable for the people of Kashmir while the Citizen Amendment Act has introduced a deep sense of insecurity for a large proportion of the population that cannot produce valid documents. State and majoritarian violence has  also increased with institutions and individuals, who have been critical of the ruling government physically attacked, trolled or arrested under sedition charges. At the same time, disastrous economic policies like demonetization and GST have devastated livelihoods. Not surprisingly, the Modi government has tightly controlled the release of official economic data and statistics that impedes comprehensive assessment of the Indian economy. The surreptitious attack on the working classes goes hand-in-hand with the othering and persecution of minorities.

India under Modi and the U.S. under Trump are like twin peas in a pod. Irrespective of what deals they reach, it is the common people of both countries who lose.

Madhumita Dutta and Sirisha Naidu are researchers based in the US.

[1]https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds430_e.htm

[2]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/us-wins-poultry-case-against-india-at-wto-50081

[3]https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-india-poultry-idUSKCN0ZO1I1

[4]https://www.statista.com/statistics/237597/leading-10-countries-worldwide-in-poultry-meat-production-in-2007/

[5]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/us-wins-poultry-case-against-india-at-wto-50081

[6]https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/us-india-trade-deal-a-threat-to-dairy-sector/article30844202.ece

[7] In 2019, National Crimes Records Bureau did not release data on mob lynching and killing due to cow vigilantism. See: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/ncrb-leaves-out-data-on-lynchings-khap-and-religious-killings-6081188/ There are some partial data on violence related to cow vigilantism, see:

https://www.news18.com/news/india/88-incidents-of-cow-related-violence-since-2012-86-of-them-during-bjp-rule-1817051.html

[8]https://scroll.in/latest/953620/gujarat-to-spend-rs-80-crore-for-donald-trumps-3-hour-visit-to-ahmedabad-report

[9] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/41-6-of-Gujarats-kids-stunted-finds-Unicef-study/articleshow/51505698.cms

[10]https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/india-worst-in-child-wasting-90-children-up-to-two-years-age-are-malnourished/1737059/

[11]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/india-slum-dwellers-eviction-notices-trump-visit-200218105043549.html

[12] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-01-14/u-s-job-growth-is-great-but-boosting-wages-will-be-much-harder


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One Comment

  1. Modi and Trump are twins – born of the wedlock between economic neo-liberalism and political authoritarianism.