When Indian prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi asked at an election rally if anyone knew of a country that exported wheat but imported bread, steelmakers joined his followers to cheer.
For steel executives, it was just what they wanted to hear: their calls to restrict exports of iron ore further will be met if Modi's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the election.
While the move would mean a captive supply of iron ore for steelmakers, it would further dim the prospect of Indian iron ore returning in a big way to the world market. A steep drop in Indian shipments in the past two years has given Australia and Brazilian miners a bigger share of top market China.
"The government in Delhi is such that it exports iron ore but imports steel," Modi said at the rally in the steel city of Jamshedpur last month. "If you run your business like this, how will the country's steel industry survive?"
One of Modi's main election planks is to crank up manufacturing to create millions of jobs by focusing on exporting steel, not iron ore; textiles not cotton. Results of the five-week election are due on May 16.
The gainers of any move to discourage iron ore exports would be steel makers that do not have captive mines and buy ores, such as Kalyani Steels, JSW Steel and Kirloskar Ferrous Industries, as well as international miners such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
Iron ore exporters such as Sesa Sterlite and Essel Mining, a unit of conglomerate Aditya Birla Group, could lose out. Mining bans in Goa and Karnataka have already taken a toll on Sesa, which operates in both states.
The BJP will also consider incentives for steelmakers as part of its push to promote value-addition, said Narendra Taneja, part of the party's central economic group.
Steel imports have seen double-digit percentage growth in recent years, mainly from countries such as Japan, South Korea and China, despite a target to raise steel capacity to 142 million tonnes by 2017 and 300 million by 2025, from about 90 million currently.
Imports rose 15 percent to a record 7.87 million tonnes, worth $6 billion, in the year ended March 2013, government data shows, as mills ran below capacity due to shortages of iron ore.
The deficit has been created by a court clampdown on illegal mining, before which India was the third-largest exporter with shipments at a high of about 117 million