gfiles magazine

February 9, 2011

SILLY POINT | onion crisis | vincent van ross
The onion makes the common man as well as governments weep
IN India, onions have brought tears to more governments than one. No wonder they are called tear-jerkers! The current shortage of onions is not entirely the government’s fault, the rain gods too were mischief-makers this time. Like the bulb, the crisis is also enveloped in problem layers. You go on peeling layer after layer and there is hardly any visible change right up to the last.
This is not the first time that the price of onions has skyrocketed. In 1998 too, the price shot up to Rs 80 a kilogramme. In fact, the current onion situation is a repeat performance of 1998. The government has directed the State Trading Corporation (STC) to import as many onions as possible to deal with the crisis. That’s not all, it has also put the Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) on the job. Finding a solution is the immediate issue. Whether onions should be categorized as minerals or metals can be sorted out later!

The government has put Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation on the job of finding a solution, which is the immediate issue. Whether onions can be categorized as minerals or metals can be sorted out later!

Asked why the government did not foresee this crisis and make contingency plans, a spokesman retorted that predictions are not part of any government strategy as of now. Besides, the Agriculture Ministry does not have an astrology department! But, if somebody could convince the government that astrological predictions can be used to foresee such problems, the government would be more than willing to consider the possibility of creating such a department.
For the common man, onions have always been tear-jerkers. When they are available in plenty, they bring on tears while chopping and slicing. When they are in short supply or being sold at exorbitant rates, they bring tears to people’s eyes for obvious reasons. As to why we are so obsessed with this all-season tearjerker defies explanation.
People who could not afford even dal (lentils) with their rotis (bread) used to eat their rotis with onions. Now, they cannot afford it anymore. They are forced to look at other options.
Every time there is an onion crisis, the humble radish emerges as a temporary hero. In fact, that is what happens in Bollywood too. When they cannot afford Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan, they settle for an affordable hero.
Another commendable step by the government comes in the form of income-tax raids on onion traders. If it were not for this onion shortage, the government would have had no clue that the earnings of onion traders are above taxable limits.
Our friendly neighbour, Pakistan, is contributing to the problem by holding back trucks loaded with onions meant for India. It is time we start looking for alternatives. The politics of the Pakistani government and the internal politics of their traders should not be allowed to become a national problem for India!
The files relating to a consignment of onions that arrived at Mumbai by ship are rumoured to have been misplaced. Now, nobody knows what to do with the onions. So, it has been ensured that the onions get sufficient storage space at the dockyard on a priority basis to be stored until they rot.
Successive governments have shown their keenness to empower the masses. Now, the government wants people to find solutions to the problems that the government creates.
Some may dismiss the onion as just a vegetable the way you make an idiomatic reference to a person who can do nothing. But nobody should ever make the mistake of underestimating the power of the onion. It can bring tears to any government. If you do not believe this, Sushma Swaraj may be able to throw some light on what it did to the Delhi government in 1998.

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