In 1998, it became the “kingmaker” in Delhi’s politics. Riding on a so-called “onion wave,” the Congress snatched the reins of Delhi back from the ruling BJP that was left in tears as onion slipped out of the common man’s shopping list due to sky-high prices, and turned into a full-blown election issue.
A decade later, the old onion is scripting a similar story this election season. But this time there aren’t much audience.
The wholesale prices of onions have increased by 80 per cent in the past year. From Rs 639 per quintal in the first week of April 2008, the price has gone up to Rs 1,150 per quintal by the last week of March 2009, as per the data collated by the Ministry of Consumers Affairs.
The increase is mirrored in retail prices as well. In most South and Central Delhi outlets, onions are sold between Rs 18 and Rs 22 per kg. The same amount cost around Rs 14 a year ago.
“There has been an overall increase over the past year. The rate of increase was high but it depended on a lot of factors like production, availability etc,” said Rajkumar Bhatia, general secretary of Agriculture Produce Markets Committee (APMC), in Azadpur, Delhi vegetable wholesale hub.
Politicians, including those of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is harping on inflation as one of the poll issues, has given the onion a royal snub with not a single candidate making a mention of the price rise.
“This could be because in the past fortnight when campaigns were warming up, the prices were down thanks to the Navratra, when North Indian Hindus are off onion,” said Jai Kishan Saini of the Azadpur Vegetable Traders Association.
Onion prices remained high towards March-end of 2009 on lower output in some of the growing states, amid a rise in demand both from domestic and global market.
But traders said that onion may not be left ignored for long. “A major amount of the crop has been damaged and lost in Nashik, a chief onion supplier to the Capital. Thanks to that, we are getting a decreased supply of onion. If that supply does not improve, who knows, the prices might go up again,” said Saini.
Are the vote-seekers listening?