Going into the Jharkhand Assembly elections trailed by the bleak economy figures and the Maharashtra political embarrassment, the BJP fears that its prospects may take a hit due to the steep onion prices.
Onions have been retailing at higher rates than in other parts of the country in the Jharkhand capital of Ranchi, seeing a more than 400 per cent rise since the beginning of the financial year. While the supply has improved in the past few days, there has been no significant impact on the prices.
The BJP is up against a formidable opposition alliance in the five-phase Jharkhand Assembly elections, which kicked off on Saturday. It is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image and welfare measures initiated by the Raghubar Das government to see it through.
Data available on the portal of the National Horticulture Board (NHB) shows that the average price of onions in Ranchi in November was Rs 5,533 per quintal, more than three times the going rate of Rs 1,610 per quintal in the same period last year. The retail price is almost as high as well, Rs 6,967 per quintal compared to Rs 2,335 per quintal in November 2018.
A BJP leader who is part of the Jharkhand poll preparations said, “After what happened in Maharashtra, the party is in desperate need of an impressive victory to regain its image. Workers across the country, especially those gearing up for the elections in Delhi and Bihar, want a morale boost. However, the bad news on the economic front — falling GDP, dwindling job prospects and general gloom — has hit them already. If onion prices remain high, it will certainly dent us in the elections.”
The Maharashtra developments are also being closely watched in Jharkhand as the BJP has lost allies here too, like the Shiv Sena in Mumbai. The All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), which was in the ruling coalition with the BJP, and other allies like the JD(U) and Lok Janshakti Party, are contesting separately. The Opposition Congress, JMM and RJD, on the other hand, have formed a pre-poll alliance.
A marginal player in Jharkhand till 2014, the BJP had won most seats in the last Assembly elections in the state with a margin of less than 10,000 votes, including 19 with a difference of below 5,000. Points out a BJP MP, “With the Opposition together, the fight would be closer, even small issues could swing the voters. So, the spike in onion prices could influence votes.”
Onion prices have seen a sharp rise across the country on account of a dip in supply. NHB data shows that the total arrival of onions in Jharkhand declined to 6,870 metric tonnes in November from 9,710 metric tonnes during the same month last year. Onion prices have been rising in Jharkhand since the beginning of the current financial year, as per the Department of Consumer Affairs website. On April 1, the vegetable was selling at Rs 13 per kg in Ranchi, going up to Rs 70 per kg by November 29 — an increase of 438.46 per cent. In the corresponding period, all-India average onion retail price increased from Rs 16.2 per kg to 75.62 per kg, or a 366.21 per cent surge.
Since November 1, when the Assembly elections were announced in Jharkhand, onion prices in Ranchi have gone up by 40 per cent, from Rs 50 per kg.
In 1998, the BJP’s loss in the Delhi Assembly elections was attributed to skyrocketing prices of onion, going up to a then record Rs 60 per kg. The government’s attempts to augment supply through imports had failed to stop the Congress win.