Seriously. Everywhere. Except India.India’s central government finally took action to ease a worsening onion crisis by providing roughly $154 million in assistance for farmers and distributors in Maharashtra, one of the states experiencing the worst damage to this year’s onion crop. Although India has the largest area under onion cultivation in the world, onion prices have skyrocketed this year to more than 100 rupees per kilogram (about $1.60).To make matters worse, it’s Diwali—festival time in India. Onions are hugely important for daily life in India, doubly so during Diwali feasts and festivals.The assistance package for Maharashtra is unlikely to put an end to the crisis. Other states have been hit just as hard by late monsoon rains, causing onion crops to fail. Distributors are blamed for hoarding onions to sell at inflated prices. The government will likely make emergency imports from abroad: China, Egypt, Iran, perhaps Pakistan.In India, onions are more than an indicator of economic well-being. In India, onions are political. They’ve brought down governments and affect elections. The crisis this year is no exception. The BJP, India’s largest and most powerful opposition party, jumped on the crisis as it began, saying the ruling Congress party should be blamed for the collapse of onion supplies and exorbitant prices. BJP politicians held rallies and sold onions at low prices in order to curry favor with voters. Congress’s assistance package was highly political too—Maharashtra is a hugely important state for India’s upcoming elections, the Hindustan Times reports.
With five states going to the polls in December and general elections slated for early next year, the issue of price rise has become more political than economic for the Congress-led government. And the sky-high prices of onions have given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with.
The crisis won’t ease for another “two to three weeks,” according to the agriculture minister. As in the past, onions will play an important role in Indian politics, especially as the heat of election season increases. They will provide Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, with another important layer for what is shaping up to be a strong campaign. For Congress, it might all end in tears.[Onion truck image courtesy of Shutterstock]