On 25th May 2023, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister MK Stalin wrote a letter to Union Minister of Cooperation Amit Shah requesting him to direct AMUL to desist from procuring milk from Aavin’s milk shed area. After the Karnataka unit of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), MK Stalin of Dravid Munnetra Kazhagham was seen opposing the dairy brand of Gujarat in the name of saving the local cooperative sector in the respective states.
This letter by MK Stalin has come days after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray said that riots don’t take place in areas where Marathi Muslims reside. Mamata Banerjee among other regional leaders is well known for playing the politics of locals versus non-locals. Against this backdrop, it becomes necessary to review such incidents in the country where leaders of the opposition and regional parties have taken up the local versus non-local issue and check the strategy behind it if any, however different for each one involved.
MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu
In his letter to Amit Shah, MK Stalin wrote, “In Tamil Nadu, like in other States with strong dairy cooperatives, a three-tier dairy cooperative system is functioning effectively since 1981 for the benefit of the rural milk producers and consumers. Aavin is our apex cooperative marketing federation. Under the ambit of Aavin co-operative, 9,673 Milk Producers Co-operative Societies are functioning in rural areas. They procure 35 LLPD of milk from about 4.5 lakh pouring members. Under this current arrangement, the milk producers are assured of remunerative and uniform prices throughout the year by the cooperative societies.”
MK Stalin added, “Recently, It has come to our notice that the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union (Amul), has utilised their multi-state cooperative license, to install chilling centres and a processing plant In Krishnagiri District and has planned to procure milk through FPOs and SHGs in and around Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Vellore, Ranipet, Tirupathur, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts in our State. It has been a norm in India to let cooperatives thrive without Infringing on each other’s milk-shed area. Such cross-procurement goes against the spirit of ‘Operation White Flood’ and will exacerbate problems for consumers given the prevailing milk shortage scenario in the country.”
The decision of AMUL to operate in Tamil Nadu is unfortunate, detrimental to the interest of Aavin and will create unhealthy competition between the cooperatives.
Regional cooperatives have been the bedrock of dairy development in the states and are better placed to engage and… pic.twitter.com/yn2pKINofO
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) May 25, 2023
MK Stalin further said, “his act of AMUL Infringes on Aavin’s milk shed area which has been nurtured in true cooperative spirit over decades. Therefore, I request your urgent intervention to direct Amul to desist from milk procurement from the milk shed area of Aavin in Tamil Nadu with immediate effect.”
While the assertion of regional identity and the vocal opposition to Hindi has always been the core of DMK politics, MK Stalin has tried to give an economic and financial angle to regionalism as well. The local versus non-local issue in Tamil Nadu is thus highlighted in the current AMUL versus Aavin row.
With the success of this local vs non-local narrative in West Bengal and Karnataka, hurting the national integrity of the country does not seem to matter, as long as regional parties can stir up regional sentiments to win political brownie points and finally, the elections. Stalin is not the first person to stir up such cock-eyed regionalism for the sake of politics. The local vs non-local issue seems to have been turned into a template by regional parties who wish to keep BJP at bay.
Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra
When Raj Thackeray started his party he made it very clear in the very name of his political outfit that whatever ‘Navnirman’ his ‘Sena’ wills to do will be ‘Maharashtra’ centric. But while doing so, an appetite for Marathi votes the junior Thackeray had, has subtly and unknowingly transformed into ignorance towards Dharmic issues as he tried to appease what he calls Marathi Muslims in the recent controversy around Trimbakeshwar temple – a Jyotirlinga in the Nashik district of Maharashtra.
On 13th May 2023, a group of Muslims barged into the Shiva temple under the guise of offering fumes of frankincense to the Hindu deity as Muslims had taken out a procession after Sandal rituals at a local Dargah during its annual Urs. Reacting to this incident, Raj Thackeray said, “If it is an age-old tradition it is pointless to put a stop to it. This is an issue of the people of Trimbakeshwar. There are hundreds of mandirs and masjids in Maharashtra where you see such syncretism.”
He added, “These are traditions that need to be continued. Our religion is not so weak that it will get corrupted if a person from another religion enters a temple. I have gone to various masjids. It is in some of our temples that people from a certain caste are only allowed entry into the sanctum sanctorum. People who are hyping this issue I feel their outlook towards religion is rather constricted.”
He concluded by saying, “Wherever Marathi Muslims live, there is no communal tension. This is my experience. They live there. Their kids learn in the local schools. They live peacefully. That’s why there is no communal tension in such places. But some people disrupt this harmony. In a Hindu-majority state, how can a Hindu be under threat?”
Raj Thackeray’s MNS would rely on Marathi versus non-Marathi issues in the initial phases. Its core issue was the migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh coming to Mumbai and nearby cities like Thane, Pune, and Nashik and seizing job opportunities there. MNS also blamed them for the increased crime rate in the cities and the state.
In the recent two-three years, Raj Thackeray came back to vocal Hindutva and started addressing issues like loudspeakers in mosques and illegal Mazars. But in an attempt to lure Marathi Muslims, he appropriated an incident wherein Muslims tried to barge into a temple that was taken back after a long fight.
MNS seems unaware of the fact that Marathi Muslims is an imaginary term and can only be compared with a term like Arab Hindus. For all practical purposes, it is ‘Muslims in Maharashtra’, which looks evident from the examples in various cities across the Marathi state. But in an attempt to target Muslim votes in Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray – the cartoonist – went on to differentiate between Marathi Muslims and non-Marathi Muslims.
Also, there have been so many incidents of communal tensions in the interiors of Maharashtra. Yavatmal, Akola, Amravati, and Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar are places in the state where Muslims are as local and Marathi as Raj Thackeray expects them to be. But their actions are screaming that they relate themselves more to Islam than the Marathi vibe.
MNS has not vocally condemned the acts of violence committed by Muslims in these cities in the recent past. It rather preferred to play the local versus non-local card even within the so-called minority community in the state.
Congress and JDS in Karnataka
While Congress identifies itself as a national party, it has very smartly played the local versus non-local politics on various occasions. It displayed its core competencies of divide and rule in Karnataka as it matched voice with the Janata Dal (Secular) in opposing AMUL’s milk delivery plans in the capital of the Kannada state.
Before the Karnataka assembly elections, which were held in May this year, social media was rife with misinformation about Amul taking over the State’s local dairy brand Nandini. The controversy began on April 5 when the official Twitter handle of Amul posted an infographic with the caption, “The #Amul family is bringing in some Taaza into #Bengaluru city. More updates coming in soon. #LaunchAlert”. The archive of the tweet can be accessed here.
In fact, in December 2022, Union Home Minister Amit Shah called for greater cooperation between Amul and Nandini, which is owned by the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF). He said, “Amul and KMF together will work towards ensuring there is a primary dairy in every village of the state. Amul and KMF have to work together to boost the cooperative dairy in Karnataka.”
But his statement was deliberately misconstrued to suggest that Amul might buy Nandini shortly and thus sell the local dairy brand to ‘North Indian businessmen.’ Some vested interests went on to claim that Amul is trying to ‘root out’ Nandini and thus undermine the Kannadiga identity and culture. The controversy was re-ignited after Amul tweeted about its plans to launch its brand in Bengaluru.
Opposition political leaders in Karnataka tried to use the Amul-Nandini controversy to whip up regionalism ahead of the state elections. Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah even appealed to the Kannadigas to boycott the Amul brand. Congress leader DK Shivakumar suggested a larger conspiracy in the entry of Amul into the Karnataka market.
While speaking about the matter, Siddaramaiah had said, “In addition to language treason by the imposition of Hindi and land treason by trespassing within the state borders, now the BJP government is going to betray the farmers by shutting down Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), which is the livelihood of millions of dairy farming families in the country.”
Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy also resorted to regionalism over the Amul-Nandini row. “Amul is being pushed into Karnataka from the backdoor with the support of the Central government. Amul is strangulating the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) and the farmers. Kannada people should rebel against Amul,” he said.
“We as Kannadigas should oppose Amul and protect the interest of Karnataka farmers unitedly. Our people and customers should use Nandini products on priority and save the livelihood of farmers,” HD Kumaraswamy further claimed. However, Congress – and not JDS – successfully milked this controversy as the grand party came to power in Karnataka after the recent elections.
Tejashwi Yadav and Nitish Kumar in Bihar
In 2015, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Congress came together in the Bihar state assembly elections against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Calling BJP led by Amit Shaha and Narendra Modi ‘Bahari’ meaning Outsider, the alliance asked Bihari people to vote for them. Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav profoundly peddled this narrative as two of the tallest figures in the BJP hail from Gujarat.
It is notable that before leaving NDA in 2013, Nitish Kumar ruled the state in an alliance with the BJP for 8 years. Even after breaking the alliance with RJD and Congress in 2017, he remained in alliance with the BJP till 2022. BJP leaders from Bihar – and not from Gujarat – were sharing power with him all this while. Still, in the 2015 assembly elections of Bihar, he nourished the narrative of the local versus outsiders. Tejashwi Yadav often uses it even now.
Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Mamata Banerjee – the chief minister of West Bengal and the president of the Trinamool Congress Party added multiple flavours to this locals versus non-locals politics. She said during the run-up for the 2021 assembly elections of West Bengal, “Gujaratis are trying to capture Bengal by bringing goons from UP and Bihar.” Mamata Banerjee also vowed to not let her State turn into Gujarat. The West Bengal CM emphasised, “We will not allow Bengal to become like Gujarat.” She made the remarks during an election rally in the Howrah district.
It was not the first time that she was blaming outsiders and played the politics of locals versus non-locals. She indulged in such things since 2019. She has blamed ‘outsiders’ for incidents of violence and unrest that took place in the State. The objective behind it was to evade responsibility for failing to provide safety and security to the residents of West Bengal.
It also had the unintended consequence of instilling a heightened sense of fear within the Bengali community, suggesting that their culture, language, and safety were being threatened by migrants from other states. Although this tactic of regionalism and subsequent polarization proved beneficial for the Mamata Banerjee government in the 2021 West Bengal elections, it further divided society and left ‘outsiders’ susceptible to both casual discrimination and actual physical assaults.
Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh
What is so local and non-local in and about Hindi speaking state of Uttar Pradesh which is surrounded by so many similar states? Well, that question may arise in one’s mind unless he or she is an Akhilesh Yadav or a Rahul Gandhi. During the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2017, these two scions of their respective parties led a campaign run by the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance. The campaign was branded as ‘UP Ke Ladke’.
The Congress had contested the assembly election of Uttar Pradesh held in 2017 in alliance with the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav. Akhilesh Yadav was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2012 to 2017 and his father has been an MP as well as chief minister of the state as well. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi at that time was MP from Amethi, a seat his family had won for generations before Smriti Irani defeated him in 2019. His mother also is an MP from Rae Bareli. His family has always claimed to have roots in UP.
This is why during the 2017 election campaign, Yadav and Rahul Gandhi both referred to themselves as ‘UP Ke Ladke’ (UP boys) like they were part of some elite club. ‘UP Ke Ladke’ means ‘boys from UP’. It is notable that at the time of this campaign, both these boys were around 45 years old.
Not only this, during the election rallies they went on to indirectly call Modi and Shah donkeys from Gujarat. Akhilesh Yadav called them ‘Gujarat Ke Gadhe’ which means donkeys from Gujarat. Giving a befitting reply to this, Narendra Modi said that he was proud to take inspiration from the donkey that serves its master day in and day out without prejudice and caring for itself. Modi said, “The people of the country are the bosses. I work tirelessly for them and will continue to do so.”
This experiment of locals versus non-locals, however, miserably failed. the alliance could not withstand the phenomenal surge of the BJP which won over 300 seats in the assembly of 403 only to give Uttar Pradesh a chief minister like Yogi Adityanath.
We have seen how Tamil Nadu and Karnataka focussed on language and cooperative business issues. While Raj Thackeray appropriated Muslims in his so-called Marathi and Hindutva politics by calling them Marathi Muslims, regional political leaders in Bihar cried about outsiders controlling the governance of the state.
Mamata Banerjee seemed more worried about outsiders conquering TMC’s core competency – hooliganism. Therefore she complained that BJP is bringing goons from UP and Bihar. The boys from UP could not survive the ones whom they called donkeys from Gujarat. Their circus however gave UP a strict ringmaster.
Looking at the anti-BJP form the wrestler’s protest is getting into, it is highly possible that local versus non-locals – rather Jat versus non-Jat – politics can be played by the opposition in the state of Haryana before the upcoming assembly elections. Jharkhand is currently led by Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and backed by the Congress party which has always taken political advantage in the guise of addressing regional aspirations by opposing dominations of outsiders.
Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir are regions that limit the scope of popular arguments of locals versus non-locals to an argument of outsider majority versus locally concentrated minority – Sikhs in Punjab and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, like Jats in Haryana – these so-called minorities are the majority in the two border states.
For a grand, vast and varied nation like India with a civilisational, ancient identity, politicians should ideally focus on issues that bind the nation instead of pulling it apart, however, that does not seem to be a campaign they think would fetch them votes.