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From England, the offer of cheap onions

world Updated: Jan 23, 2011 23:53 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Indian onion prices are causing no end to tears in London, and chief mourners are the brothers Johnson. Boris, the London Mayor, is a colourful man who fancies himself to be an India hand - just like brother Jo, a former journalist who is now a Tory MP.

Jo used to be the FT man in New Delhi, and is a massive supporter of greater India-UK trade. But Boris is ours by rishta (relation), being a pucca damaad (his wife comes from solid Anglo-Punjabi stock). Both were in India recently, doing their own things presumably. Jo advises Prime Minister David Cameron on India. Boris, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't. But that didn't stop him from talking about Indian onions.

In his column in the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper in January, Boris made the eye-watering offer of supplies of English onions for Indian consumer. Jo, he said, had told him that the British "are continually underselling ourselves out here."

"It may not be practical to sell English onions to India (although I wouldn't rule it out), but with a world trade deal we would at least be able to sell the expertise in logistics that allows us to grow them so cheaply," said Boris.

Now, just in case that sends every reader drooling, it's worth knowing a bit about English onions. Compared to their Indian cousins, they are big and shaggy. Their peels are tough but what's inside is sweet, soft and mild. A bit like Boris then…

Boris, thinks he knows why a kg of English onions is a full 40 pence (around R30) cheaper than Indian ones: "Agriculture is the last unreformed part of the (Indian) economy, creaking with middlemen and inefficiency."

But his related plea in the same article for giving world trade a leg-up by concluding the Doha round in 2011 hasn't impressed critics.

"Whilst Boris may know his onions," bristled Murad Qureshi, Member of the London Assembly, in his blog, "it would appear that what he doesn't know is how to cook them."