Who would have thought that onions could make a nation cry? The unseasonal rains have destroyed crops, sending the prices of onions soaring. This is the highest since 2013. Making matters much worse for the Centre is the fact that the government is struggling to come up with a plausible reason for the economic downturn in the country, with growth hitting a six-year low.
As if the rising onion prices was not enough, ministers are adding fuel to fury by making insensitive remarks which seems to mock the plight of the ordinary consumer.
First, it was none other than finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman who, of late, has been seen to ruffle a few feathers with her sharp jibes, always delivered sternly with an unsmiling face. Not quite like the FM you want to see when things are not looking up. To think that she said she hailed from a family which didn’t consume onion or garlic much even if you put the response in the context in which her statement was made. It reminded us of a remark ascribed in popular imagination to the French queen, Marie Antoinette: “If they do not have bread, let them eat cake.”
Weary of the government’s apathy, people slammed her for her nose-in-the-air remark smacking of snooty aloofness, following which she was forced to issue a clarification, saying that her words were taken out of context and that she was only replying to a specific question. Predictably, what followed was a meme fest on the social media. Then it was the turn of another minister Ashwini Choubey, who justified his ignorance of onion prices, taking refuge in the fact that he had never tasted onions in his life. Another politician from Uttar Pradesh, Azam Khan took a jibe at Nirmala Sitharaman’s comments, saying that people should stop eating onions. Not to be left behind, former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who had been released from New Delhi’s Tihar Jail only a few hours earlier, too wasted no opportunity in taking a dig at the finance minister.
Happy to be back in Parliament, Mr Chidambaram led the Opposition in protest against the government over onion prices. He said that the government was in complete denial over its wrong economic policies. He summed it up by saying the only prescription for the falling economy was the exit of the BJP-led government. But then that prescription is a long way off from bearing true.
The Congress seems to have made the failing economy its key agenda. And hence they fielded P. Chidambaram, their stalwart in the discipline, to diagnose the malaise and recommend a suitable remedy in the language of a seasoned economist.
The epic response to Nirmala Sitharaman’s remarks came from none other than Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who said: “Nobody is asking whether you eat onions. You are the finance minister and expected to explain why the economy is struggling.” It was indeed a stinging riposte to what was widely seen as a highly insensitive comment.
In most parts of the country, particularly the metros, the prices of onions have gone through the roof, going as high as `150 a kilo. The lowest is said to be `80 a kilo in wholesale market.
Historically, an onion price rise is not only the concern of the average consumer, but the issue of skyrocketing prices has always made the ruling party at the Centre or in the states nervous and anxious. It is a vegetable that has in the past even toppled governments like Delhi and Rajasthan. Now, this should be a cause for some worry to the BJP government, which was riding a high wave after its landmark decisions like on Kashmir and after the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict. Among many other things which played a key role in empowering Indira Gandhi to victory in 1980, onions spiced up her triumph in no mean part.