How Will Nirmala Sitharaman Eat Onions? Her Foot is In Her Mouth

Politics

How Will Nirmala Sitharaman Eat Onions? Her Foot is In Her Mouth

Illustration: Arati Gujar

It’s not every day that a composed, scholarly, and well-respected Union Minister transforms into a full-blown TikTok comedian with a preset music track, and their own catchphrase. Actually, who are we kidding, it’s India, it happens all the time. Every week or so, a politician will end up feeling the need to address issues, and manage to place both their feet firmly in their mouth, proving once and for all that the yoga classes are helping, and, of course, that we should lower our expectations from our netas.

The target of this week’s need for some comic relief is none other than Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who forgot for a second that she was supposed to be in charge of the Indian economy while addressing other members of Parliament. As if responding to an invitation to eat a plate of sev puri, the minister appeared to seem disgusted by the thought of eating onions, and said it was never a staple in her family.  “I don’t eat much onion and garlic. I come from such a family which doesn’t have much to do with onion.”

Unfortunately the Finance Minister was not declining a plate of chaat, but addressing a question on the steep rise in prices of onions in the last few months, and the impact that very rise was having on the millions of Indians who struggle to put a meal on their plates. This flippant statement apparently shocked the Opposition into action, with Congress and AAP members calling it Sitharaman’s Marie Antoinette moment (a reference to the often-quoted, “If they can’t eat bread, let them eat cake” statement that’s usually attributed to the erstwhile Queen of France).

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who has just been released on bail in a corruption case, meanwhile, made sure he sounded like he was up to date with the trends by asking the finance minister if she would prefer avocado instead.

Once the hashtag, #SayitLikeNirmalaTai, was coined, the finance minister was to become a certified meme and a shoo-in for this year’s “Foot in Mouth” award.

Sitharaman also typically riled up social media vigilantes, who fondly remember Nirmala Tai as the woman who just months ago blamed a “millennial obsession with Uber and Ola” for the slowdown in the auto industry. Once the hashtag, #SayitLikeNirmalaTai, was coined, the finance minister was to become a certified meme and a shoo-in for this year’s “Foot in Mouth” award.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been other contenders for the throne. Barely a few months ago, Sitharaman’s colleague, Piyush Goyal credited Einstein for discovering gravity, before bizarrely doubling down when he was called out, and repeating it again. The Commerce and Industry Minister also went on to add, “Don’t get into the math of it”, in response to a question on how he planned to make India a $5 trillion economy, and immediately a group of engineering students waiting in the background heaved a sigh of relief.

The week before Piyush Goyal invalidated Aryabhatta, Chanakya, and Newton’s contribution to the sciences, another minister was making his own scientific discoveries. Giriraj Singh of the Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries ministry claimed to have come up with a solution of cow lynchings. Artificial insemination in cattle, the minister had said, would ensure that only a few female calves were born, and thus there would be nothing to lynch anyone over. Even Tiger Shroff and his bendy legs would have trouble jumping to such conclusions, but there we have it.

And to make things worse, this has all happened in the last few months. We haven’t even gone back in time far enough to get to the “minister” who thought peacocks mated solely through tears, or broadened our horizons enough to include babus, such as the guy who thought everything that was stored in the cloud is lost when it rains.

The Commerce and Industry Minister went on to add, “Don’t get into the math of it”, in response to a question on how he planned to make India a $5 trillion economy.

Still, for now, Nirmala Sitharaman seems to have stolen the show, with her relentless will to say things that will backfire. Two weeks ago, she even managed to face the brunt of the trolls without being mentioned. After retired industrialist Rahul Bajaj asked Amit Shah a few very pointed questions about the functioning of the central government, Sitharaman tweeted that it was better the matter was discussed out in the open, rather than “spreading one’s own impression” that could “hurt national interest”, and almost immediately stole the show.

So even as a few ministers swear they’ve never eaten onions, and others sell truckloads of onions at ₹25, let’s all get together and congratulate Nirmala Sitharaman for being the current “Foot-in-Mouth Minister”. Maybe she’ll go on to fix the economy next!

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