The onion saga
India’s onion shortage is affecting its bilateral relations — and not just with neighbours but even distant friends such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). New Delhi banned all export of onions from September 29. This has gradually led to an acute shortage of the vegetable all across south Asia and the middle east. Everyone buys — and likes — Indian onions. In Nepal, where Indian onions dominate the market, the export ban has signalled a geostrategic shift: Nepal is now buying onions from China, something the Communist Party of Nepal leader and Prime Minister KP Oli is only too happy to endorse. Trucks laden with Chinese onions are trundling across the border through Tatopani and Rasuwa, the two trade gateways, travelling nearly 3,500 km through arduous conditions and extremely cold weather to meet Nepalese demand. Nepalese bhattis (as their dhabas are called) now have a specially curated ‘Modi menu’ that has (mostly) onion-free vegetables.
Last week, in Bangladesh, the opposition called for a day-long strike against the government for not managing the onion shortage competently. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's deputy press secretary Hasan Jahid Tusher told news agency AFP that onions were being imported by air freight, and that "Prime Minister (Sheikh Hasina) said she has stopped using onion in dishes". A kilo of onions used to cost 30 taka. The cost is now 260 taka — if you can get Indian onions at all. The state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) is selling onions at a discounted 45 taka per kilo from trucks in Dhaka. And of course, Twitter continues it non-stop commentary. ‘Went to buy onion, the shopkeeper asked for last 3 months pay slip’ said one wit. “Our government’s solution: if you can’t afford onion, we’ll use gas to make you cry,” said another a day after the teargassing of Jamia students. And so it goes...