Indian Decade

Tomato Politics

A spat over tomatoes underscores the prickliness of Indo-Pakistan ties these days.

Don’t be bamboozled by the title—it’s strange but true. It’s not just Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism and the water issue that divide India and Pakistan. The tomato—that roly-poly, juicy red vegetable—is the latest source of bickering between the two estranged neighbours.

Last week, a powerful farmers’ lobby from Sindh Province in Pakistan asked Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani to ban the import of tomatoes from India to ‘safeguard the interests of local farming community’. The move brought a smirk to the faces of many Indian bureaucrats. After all, given the huge trust-deficit the sub-continent rivals traditionally experience, every little thing is blown out of all proportion in the context of India-Pakistan relations.

A ban by Pakistan on tomato exports from India should actually only help the Indian government, which is under tremendous pressure from the opposition over soaring prices of vegetables, particularly potatoes and tomatoes—staple foods for here.

The tomato has certainly gone global—there’s hardly any part of the world that can imagine its cuisine without this vegetable, including the people of the Indian subcontinent, whose culinary delights such as butter chicken and various fish dishes would be tasteless without tomatoes.

Americans, meanwhile, are already facing their own tomato crunch after 70 percent of the crop failed because of chilly weather in Florida. Strange indeed are the ways of the world!