Onions, an issue of public safety

The NY Times had an interesting piece yesterday called  “Rising Onion Prices Tempt Highway Robbers in India“. In India, the price of onions has more than doubled in the last year for reasons that are unclear.  The government blames “greedy wholesalers” that are hoarding onions but that seems unlikely to be the real reason (the chief minister of Delhi articulated this argument and went on to explain that “the rich don’t know anything, it is the poor who are left to suffer.”)

The price rise has led to lots of political maneuvering between the Congress Party and the opposition, the BJP.  The same chief minister promised that their government was on top of the problem “Ours is a sensitive government. Hence, it acted swiftly on taking note of soaring onion prices. Outlets arranged by the city government have been selling onions around 45 rupees per kilogram.”   This was in response to the BJP having opened stalls around the city that sold onions at low prices in an attempt to “embarrass the government.”

I know onions are an important ingredient in a lot of Indian food, but they apparently play a much bigger societal role than I knew.  The article notes that “the chief minister very well knows protesting expensive onions is no cheap political gimmick. It was one of the factors that cost the incumbent B.J.P. state government in Delhi dearly in 1998, when they were voted out of power.”

The authors go on to argue that “the onion price hike seems to be more than a political issue, but an issue of public safety.”
High onion prices are tempting thieves. Trucks transporting onions have been hijacked, onion traders in Delhi have been attacked, and one woman complains that “a bag of onions in my hand has a greater chance of being stolen than a ring or a bracelet.”
Here’s a photo of an onion protest:



h/t @tylercowen