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Issue No.: 559 | January 2014

Onion Crisis Hits India

Dr. Rita P. Bhambi
The onion crisis describes the dramatic rise in the cost of onions across markets in India. The crisis was caused by errant rainfall in the onion producing regions which led to a shortage of onion production. The crisis caused political tension in the country and was described as "a grave concern" by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The government blames the crisis on both bad weather and speculation by middlemen. K.V. Thomas, the Indian food minister, accused traders as "cheating consumers," urging them to sell onions at "affordable rates."

Onions are a primary ingredient in the making of the all important curry dish. Prices have more than doubled in the last few days. The sharp upswing in its prices - from under a dollar per kg a few days back to almost $ 2 now - has impacted everyone, especially the poor. People say they have cut down on dishes which require onions. With onions an essential part of the Indian diet, skyrocketing prices have also become a politically sensitive issue in the country, which is due to hold its general elections within the next few months. The Congress Party fears a backlash from its main support base. "The sky-high prices of onions has given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with," commented the Hindustan Times newspaper recently.

Costly onions have a history of political fallout; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was ousted in 1998 Delhi State polls after surging onion prices soured the voter mood. In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs. The latest onion price rise has also come in the middle of India's most important religious festival season, an occasion for multi-day feasts and family dinners.

Associate Professor and Head,
Dept. of History, G. N. Khalsa College, Matunga-19





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