No aaloo Puri

Mamata Banerjee sparks off a domestic trade war.

West Bengal's internal borders with neighbouring states have become non-tariff barriers to the movement of potatoes. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has halted trucks bearing potatoes out of her state in order to contain inflation. An unusual step from a politician who professes to be committed to federalism, it has caused potato inflation in neighbouring states. One of them, Odisha, has struck back by cutting off the supply of onions and fish to West Bengal. Now, Banerjee and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who head two states which will have a say in deciding who makes the next government in Delhi, will meet to talk veggies. A fine prelude to talking turkey with the national parties next year.

The border restriction imposed by Banerjee is insupportable. While the free movement of people all over India is a constitutional guarantee, the movement of goods is to be governed by the market and curbed only by taxation barriers, and even these are to give way to a uniform regime. Is it suddenly alright to limit the flow of goods for political reasons? With this precedent, in the future, will it become alright for state governments to get all pensive about the immigrant problem? This is a dangerous way for governments to go though, interestingly, it would leave Shiv Sainiks with nothing to do.

Conceivably, borders could be closed in times of crisis. In fact, history has witnessed a huge humanitarian crisis concerning potatoes. But that was in Ireland, and ages ago besides. Even in such situations, the nation has to be convinced that a crisis exists. One person's perception of a crisis cannot justify such action. Even if that person is a chief minister.

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