Onions threaten future of Delhi state govt

The public is reeling under food inflation, as parties may use the alleged onion shortage issue on the road to December elections.

Onions threaten future of Delhi state govt

Any Indian politician knows his onions wouldn't irk voters at election time, but such common sense appears to be lacking among those in government as five major Indian states gear up for elections by December.

The public is reeling under food inflation, which – according to credit rating and research agency India Ratings – galloped to 18.4 percent in September, owing largely to skyrocketing vegetable prices.

Wholesale vegetable prices increased by a dizzying 89.37 percent, spurred by a more than four-fold increase in onion prices, while retail vegetable prices increased by 34.93 percent during September.

Onions are now selling for Rs. 100 (roughly $1.6) per kilo.

A staple of most Indian kitchens and a key ingredient in most local vegetable and meat dishes, onions are also often eaten by the poor with plain bread or rice when salted.

Exorbitant prices for the onion have provoked a string of dark jokes on social media and in drawing room conversations.

If the onion has dulled the taste, it also threatens to dull the political scene for the ruling Congress Party – at least in Delhi, which in 43 days will vote in a new government.

An expert on food policy, Devender Sharma says the political fallout from onion prices was first established in 1980, when they helped former premier Indira Gandhi win a national election.

At the time, Gandhi managed to dominate lower house elections by riding a wave of popular discontent over soaring onion prices.

In 1998, the then-ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lost Delhi state assembly elections to the Congress, mainly because onion prices had shot up to Rs. 60 per kilo.

The Congress Party has ruled India's national capital ever since.

But with 43 days before state elections, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is getting worried.

She blames hoarding for the onion predicament, urging Delhi traders not to take excessive profits from selling onions.

Dikshit has held talks with Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Union Food Minister KV Thomas.

On Wednesday, Pawar announced that the government was considering importing onions from China and Egypt in hopes of bringing down local prices.

Meanwhile, the opposition BJP, which hopes to unseat the Congress Party in upcoming state polls (and in subsequent general elections), has not missed the chance to taunt Dikshit with the issue.

"The festival season is around [the corner], but the Congress government has dampened the mood of festivity owing to its inept handling of the price situation," Delhi BJP President Vijay Goel said, referring to the major Hindu festival of Diwali on November 3.

Sharma, the food policy expert, sees the crisis as political rather than one driven solely by supply shortages.

He noted that this year's national onion production stood at 16.3 million tons, compared with total consumption levels of 12 million tons.

Even after exporting some 1.8 million tons, there should, he asserted, be a substantial surplus left.

Sharma attributed the shortage to hoarding by unscrupulous traders, to whom corrupt politicians often extend protection with a view to creating artificial shortages.

AA

Last Mod: 25 Ekim 2013, 11:04
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