Yet again,onion prices are poised to lend pungency to polls.
In India,the onion is traditionally classified as a rajasik food that inflames the passions. In north India,where it is an essential ingredient in almost all cuisines,it is also a visual index of food inflation. As the number of onions in the shopping basket dwindles,tempers rise,sparks fly and if an election is in the offing,governments must reckon with the possibility of being cast out on the midden of history. Onions offer a routine occupational hazard in Indian politics but this time,as elections draw nearer and the prices of fresh produce become ever more absurd,politicians may be showing that they know their onions.
As Delhi readies for state polls,the government has reportedly opened stalls selling inflation-proof onions at Rs 50 a kilo. The Aam Aadmi Party has undercut them by opening stalls in the Old City,offering onions at Rs 40 a kilo. And the BJP has outflanked them with a Rs 25 offer. This is the first time that parties are fighting in the open market,though they have always understood the raw electoral power of onions.
Rising onion prices had contributed to the fall of the Janata government and the return of Indira Gandhi in 1980. In 1998,stratospheric prices brought tears to the eyes of the BJP when they lost Delhi to Sheila Dikshit for 15 years. This time round,onions could even tilt the scales against Dikshit. Now the question may be: is the age of absurdly colourful elections over,or will voters see candidates wearing garlands made of onions,imitating protesters on the streets in the onion panic of 2010? Parties retailing onions is an imaginative development,but Indian elections also need a touch of rajasik colour.