It seems that much like the Prime Minister, the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, also loves being in the headlines. There’s one or the other controversial, and sometimes illogical, statement that she makes that finds a prominent space in the news. Last Thursday, December 5, 2019, was one such occasion.
In response to a question by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s Supriya Sadanand Sule demanding to know what was being done to address the woes of the onion farmers, Sitharaman replied “Mein itna lahsun pyaaz nahi khati hun jee. So, don’t worry. Mein aisi parivaar se aati hun jahan onion, pyaaz se matlab nahi rakhte hain.” (I don’t eat onions and garlic that much. So, don’t worry. I come from a family that doesn’t care much about onions.)
Sule emphasised how the onion farmers don’t have a sizeable portion of land, and hence, the produce they rely on is meager, and as the market is in a bad state, they’re finding it hard to survive. Further, she highlighted her personal disinterest in eating “foreign” onions. “Why has the production of onion gone down? I am not happy eating Egyptian onions, why should India do it?” NCP’s Baramati MP asked.
One may ridicule it as being a personal choice and ask us to mind our own business, but upon paying close attention to the kinds of words that Sitharaman used, it’s obvious that it is someone ‘privileged’ saying all this, and that privileged someone should be sensitive enough to avoid making such statements. Her voice was full of arrogance. (For those who missed, here’s the video of her response.)
What we need to understand here is that Supriya Sule didn’t ask what the personal choices of the FM are, the question was to address the upswing in onion prices which, very much like other areas of concern, the ruling party has been ignoring.
However, we can skip her arrogance, but what cannot be dismissed is her response that covered the ‘measures’ that the government has been taking.
Her response, as was reported by The Indian Express, began with a self-eulogy, which has become a characteristic of any of the ruling party’s members and/or associates: “I must say, from 2014, I have also been part of some of the group of ministers, which monitored the ups and downs in onion markets.”
“Sometimes when there was a surplus of crops we also facilitated (them) by giving support to those people who want to export it. I have overnight past orders for helping with 5 to 7% assistance for exporting,” she said.
After that, she went on to add that the government doesn’t have “scientifically advanced methods of storing…So that is one of the things, so we need to have greater (sic) scientific storage facility for onions we have started working on it…then also to give better storage capacities within that region particularly around Lasalgaon.”
So, besides being this disinterested and apparently having little to do with onions, the FM doesn’t seem to have a proper solution. The advice is clear: Don’t eat onions till the prices are regulated. Isn’t it?
Nirmala Sitharaman’s response and arrogance reminded me of the phrase that is attributed to French Queen Marie Antoinette. The Queen, upon being told that the peasants, because of famine, don’t have bread to eat, supposedly said: “Let them eat cake.”
Interestingly, Sitharaman hasn’t really given us an alternative to onions, instead, she wants us to just not have it altogether. Isn’t it a great solution? But then again, what more can you expect from a finance minister who said that the automobile manufacturing was facing difficulties in attracting buyers because Millenials are using Ola and Uber?