In the shadow of the final chapter of Maharashtra’s Lok Sabha elections, the pivotal onion-growing strongholds of Nashik and Dindori constituencies are poised to cast their votes amidst rising tensions and discontent. India, a global titan in onion cultivation and the second-largest producer worldwide, finds its crucial epicentre in Maharashtra, which alone contributes 43 per cent to the nation’s onion yield. Out of total onion production in Maharashtra, 10 per cent comes from Nashik district.

The political atmosphere is thick with unrest as Bharati Pawar, the BJP stalwart and current Union Minister of State for Health, stands on a precarious ground. Representing Dindori LS constituency in Nashik district, Pawar grapples with the mounting ire of onion farmers, who find themselves choked by the central government’s recent export restrictions. Pawar has locked horns with NCP (SP) candidate Bhaskar Bhagre.

Brink of Bankruptcy

In Nashik, home to Asia’s largest onion market in Lasalgaon, the air is heavy with rebellion against policies that have shackled farmers’ livelihoods to domestic whims. The onion growers say that they have suffered immense hardships due to the frequent export bans, which have pushed many to the brink of bankruptcy.

“Over the past five years, the government has slapped export bans on onions for over 14 months. Each time the domestic price soars, they either halt exports or hike export duties to suppress the spike. Yet when prices plummet, they stand by idly as we farmers are forced to offload our crops for as little as 50 paise per kilo. Why is the government turning its back on us farmers?” asks Uttam Patil, a farmer.

In December 2023, the onion market witnessed a staggering surge as prices soared past the ₹100 per kg milestone in the domestic market, driven by crippling supply shortage. However, by January 2024, the bubble burst following a government-imposed export ban, plummeting prices in a sudden and severe downturn.

United Farmers

In the Nashik LS constituency, sitting Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde) MP, Hemant Godse is contesting against NCP (Sharad Pawar) Rajabhau Waje. Like in Dindori, the BJP-led alliance candidate Godse faces the ire of farmers, questioning the government’s policy on onion prices.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis are putting maximum efforts to pacify the onion growers.

“The government’s erratic policy on onions has wreaked havoc on the economy and devastated farmers in Nashik. Their hasty measures are costing India its markets abroad, with the ultimate burden falling on the farmers. They’re concerned about the large number of onion consumers because high prices could sway elections. But we, the onion farmers, though fewer, wield enough power to make our voices heard and impact election outcomes in several constituencies,” stated Bharat Dighole, President of the Maharashtra State Onion Producer Farmer Organisation.

Earlier this month, the Centre lifted the prohibition on onion exports ahead of elections but restrained the free flow of outbound shipments by stipulating a minimum export price of $550 per tonne and a 40 per cent export duty. The ban was imposed in December 2023 due to high food inflation and supply shortage.

As Nashik and Dindori head to polls on the 20th, farmers harbour concerns that the government might reintroduce export restrictions while voting continues in other parts of the country. This apprehension stems from the possibility that the government, aiming to suppress domestic onion prices during the electoral period could impose fresh curbs on exports.