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Rising onion prices add spice to Indian polls

Lawmaker warns elections could be lost over price hike

Rising onion prices add spice to Indian polls

Inflation on food and household goods has climbed in India this year reporter, New Delhi

October 24, 2013

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 Onion prices have reached reach record levels, prompting anger from Indians, pushing up the cost of the nation's much loved curries and adding extra heat to election contests in five key states.

Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan as well as the capital Delhi all go to the polls in state elections on November 25 and December 4. More than 180 million live in the five polling states, or 15 percent of the population, with the results expected to shape the outcome of the general election due by June next year.

With onions at 100 rupees (US$1.63) per kg, four times the price they were this time last year, the cost of living looks set to be a crucial concern for voters.

Venkiah Naidu, senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that the ruling Congress Party “is going to lose the state elections due to onion prices” predicting that housewives would vote against the government as they struggle to budget for their families.

AK Ramakrishnan, a political analyst at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that the spiraling price of one of India’s key staples was sure to become a major topic of discussion in the lead up to the polls.

“The BJP is going to raise the onion price issue,” he said, adding that general inflation in India climbed to nearly 6.5 percent last month.

The ruling Congress Party appears to be taking the danger seriously. India’s food minister, KV Thomas, announced a high level government meeting for Thursday to tackle price rises, a day after the administration decided to import onions from China and Pakistan, according to local media reports.

The government has also curbed exports of onions this year, leading to a 28 percent drop in shipments overseas in the first six months compared to the same period in 2012.

RP Gupta, director of the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation, said the onion crisis should be over by the harvest in December. But by then the country will be in the middle of state election season.

Meanwhile, many Indians appear to be cutting back in a bid to reduce household spending.

Uma Muraleedharan, a New Delhi housewife, said she used to buy three kgs of onions every week. “Now only one,” she said.

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