And again “onions”!

And again “onions”!

The edible bulb has become a tear-jerker for more reasons than one. Here is a rollicking joke. Two onions were walking on a street when a wayside...

The government resorts to knee-jerk reactions which at best soothe people’s nerves, if at all.

The edible bulb has become a tear-jerker for more reasons than one. Here is a rollicking joke. Two onions were walking on a street when a wayside motorcycle ran over one of them. The friend, the other onion, took him to the nearest emergency ward of a hospital. The duty doctor promptly conducted the operation. He came out of the theatre and informed the waiting ‘friend’: “I have good news and a bad news for you. “The good news is your friend survived the operation. But the bad news is, with me having opened him, he will be a vegetable all his life’’.

Who can forget the inimitable sense of humour of the then chairman of the Rajya Sabha during the 1980s? When Lok Dal member Rameshwar Singh came into the House with an onion garland protesting about the failure of the then Indira Gandhi government in controlling onion prices, M.Hidayatulla, who was known for his sharp wit and biting sarcasm, quipped:” Thank God, it is onions! I wonder what the honorable member will do when the prices of tyres or shoes skyrocket”. When, eventually, the same Rameswar Singh kept Rs.1, 300 on the Chairman’s desk requesting him to organize cheap onions, another member of Congress Hari Singh Nalwa coolly pocketed the money promising compliance.

This was a healthy departure from the present generation of politicians crowding into the well of the House; 1977 was history in Indian politics when the Janata Party ascended to power routing Indira Gandhi’s government. Who can forget the ’77 Cola’ symbolizing the Janata Party coming to power? But it was the onion, and onion alone, that was almost responsible for its fall. It was again onion that brought the nemesis to the governments at Delhi and Rajasthan during the 1998 elections. BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was hooted with onions hurled at him during his Nashik election campaign. One Planning Commission member said that the poverty in this country could be judged by the yardstick whether the poorest of the poor could afford an onion or not.

The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Ahluwalia, by now, must have become wiser to understand that poverty of this country should be judged not by the affordability of a person’s daily sustenance, but by his reach to this edible bulb each day.

A tyre seller in Jamshedpur in Sakchi expressed his protest by offering 5 kg. of onions for every purchase of a car or truck tyre. Satnam Singh Gambhir said that this was the only way to bring to the political class the realization of its inability to control inflation.

The Internet nowadays is replete with tweets about onions. One has asked banks: “Can I get a loan on onions, please?’’. A lady says: “I would rather marry one who brings a car-load of onions!’’. While Maharashtra is the highest producer of this commodity in the country, followed by Karnataka, Gujarat and Bihar, the unforeseen drought in previous years and excessive rains in the present year resulted in a sudden surge in the prices. What was Rs.33,000 per load from Maharashtra earlier is costing Rs.14000 more now. It is customary for hoarders to choke the market between two seasons by carteling the commodity creating artificial inflation. While the CCI is wary of this trend, it is yet to come across any prima facie evidence.

A friend sent this email to me the other day: “It is the consequence of free market economics. Economists call it an ‘externality’. Externality is an unintended consequence (could be good or bad). Monetizing it is the hallmark of a robust economy.”

The government is closely ‘monitoring’ the market trend, whatever the cliché means. It resorts to knee-jerk reactions which at best soothe people’s nerves, if at all. Our Ministers for Food and Consumer Affairs K.V.Thomas and of Agriculture Sharad Pawar are seriously contemplating imports from Pakistan and China, Iran and Egypt (as of now onions are the cheapest in Iran followed by Egypt, China and Pakistan, in that order). The kharif crop will hopefully neutralize the scarcity by October. Public memory must reasonably allay the fear of the people because, in a similar scary situation in 2011, the government had sold subsidized onion through NAFED outlets.

The parties which are vying with each other to meet the immediate needs of the people to lure their votes, offering them rice, vegetables, oil, gas, etc., including TV sets and bicycles, missed the bus for once by not including onions. No wonder, perhaps, the ensuing general election will be fought through ‘onion’, a plank that affects all.

While this edible bulb belonging to the allium family (which includes garlic, leeks, shallots and chives) gate- crashes into our kitchens to lend taste to our salads, pickles, stews, soups, and sauces, tickling the taste buds, and has become such an important commodity, the scarcity of it is hitting the political bosses costing them their chairs as also their careers. Who can say that kitchens do not rule the roost in our day-to-day lives, particularly the destinies of our ruling class?

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