The crucial question of whether costly tomatoes will make voters see red in the upcoming Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland and Telangana is evoking varied responses across the political spectrum, with the BJP calling inflation in tomatoes a non-issue and the Congress smelling an opportunity to channelize voters’ anger on price rise into electoral gains.
Senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was unsure if the seasonal spike in the price of tomatoes would have any bearing on the forthcoming elections. “There are many factors like low output and rains which impact the market price of different vegetables at different times. But I don’t think costly tomatoes, as such, can alone overshadow other issues to swing election results,” he said. “Non-availability of a vegetable in the market is one issue and seasonal spike in its price is another. At present, we cannot say tomatoes are missing from the market,” he said, hinting at efforts being made to improve supplies and distribute subsidised tomatoes. Naqvi indicated that the spike in tomato prices is a passing phase. Talking specifically about Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Naqvi said the Congress is trying to create a tomato price issue to mask its “corruption, confusion and contradiction”.
Congress leader and former chairman of Delhi OBC Commission, Chatter Singh, lashed out at the BJP for being unsympathetic towards the hardships being faced by common people, especially the poor and middle class. “Where is the ‘double engine’ magic that the BJP’s central and state governments have been showcasing? Why can’t they control tomato prices and offer relief to people?” he asked. “Costly tomatoes and the all-pervasive price rise, including items like ginger and lemon, are pinching people,” said Singh, suggesting that the Congress will ensure that the issue does not get erased from voters’ memories in the run-up to assembly polls. The price of tomatoes has skyrocketed in most states in recent months, making it difficult for people to afford this essential ingredient. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the prices have increased by over 200% in the past few months. A kilogram of tomatoes now costs over Rs 100 in most states. In Delhi, some government-backed cooperative stores sold the kitchen staple at Rs 259 a kg last month.
On its part, the Narendra Modi government is coordinating tomato-procuring efforts of the National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India and the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India for sale at a subsidised rate ranging between Rs 90-70 a kg. Some BJP leaders believe the seasonal spike in tomato prices is being manipulated for political gains, with state governments in Congress-ruled states going easy on hoarders. They also base their “theories” on the presumption that non-BJP parties hold significant sway over the farming and trading community in both Maharashtra and Karnataka, which have a combined share of 17% in production of the key vegetable. This, they claim, gives them opportunity to sabotage attempts by the central government and BJP-led state governments to bring about normalcy in tomato prices.
Non-BJP state governments and parties have been criticising BJP dispensations for mishandling the situation. Opposition parties are also promising to bring down the prices of tomatoes if they come to power in state Assembly elections scheduled for November-December. It remains to be seen whether the high price of tomatoes will have a significant impact on the outcome of upcoming Assembly polls.
The verdict in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and BRS-ruled Telangana will tell if costly tomatoes cause the kind of political upheaval “costly onions” did when the kitchen staple, literally, made the BJP weep on its way out of power in Delhi three decades ago, a defeat the saffron party has failed to avenge till date.