Nandhini vs Amul stir: Congress gains in milk-producing districts
Political experts suggest that the Nandhini vs Amul controversy backfired on the BJP and played a major role in Congress’s victory in the Karnataka assembly polls.
On Saturday evening, hours after it became clear that the party had swept the assembly elections to return to power in Karnataka, a triumphant Congress leadership addressed a press conference. Front and centre of that press conference, in tacit recognition of an issue that had become central to a successful campaign, were sweets made from the milk brand “Nandini.” Congress leader Randip Surjewala offered the sweets around, including to the party president Mallikarjun Kharge and said, “Of course, we know that without Nandini, nothing can be complete in Karnataka. The milk brand has now outwitted them along with all Kannadigas.”
In late December, with weeks to go for the assembly elections, Union minister Amit Shah had courted controversy in a gathering in Mandya when he said that Nandini, and Amul, based out of Gujarat, both successful milk unions, could work together towards the welfare of India’s milk producers, initiating a “white revolution.” Even as Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai and other BJP leaders scrambled to explain that this did not mean a merger of the two entities, the Congress made the issue a campaign plank, arguing that the BJP wanted to hinder Nandini’s growth and give Amul a foothold in the Karnataka market.
During the campaign, while Rahul Gandhi made it a point to have Nandini ice-cream, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in a rally, “The time has come now to tell them (BJP) that they will not succeed here in their conspiracy to loot a good institution like Nandini (Karnataka Milk Federation’s cooperative dairy brand), ignoring the interests of lakhs of farmers and milk producers.”
Saturday’s results in the five primary milk-producing districts in Karnataka- Belagavi, Tumakuru, Hassan, Mysuru and Mandya – show the Congress has gained in the 54 constituencies on offer. The Congress won 33 seats in these seats compared to 11 in 2018. The BJP on the other hand won 21 seats in 2018, but was reduced to 12 seats.
As reported earlier by HT, the data from the 2018-19 Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) shows that the share of rural households that produce milk is 23.6% in Karnataka. The state is also ranked 9th among 20 major agricultural states by share of rural households producing milk (23.6%) and 11th by share of agricultural households producing milk (43.1%). The 2018-19 SAS defined agricultural households as those that produced agricultural products worth at least ₹4,000 in the year preceding the survey and had at least one member self-employed in agriculture. In terms of the overall value of milk, more than 50% is sold to cooperatives in Karnataka, second only to Gujarat, the home of dairy giant Amul.
“The concept of the free market has to be respected. Any company can operate in the state, but when there are talks of merging a successful brand like Nandhini with Amul, it becomes a matter of regional pride. The numbers you showed may not be the direct result of the controversy, but certainly, it played a large part in the narrative,” said a Congress leader who didn’t want to be named.
“From the party’s perspective, the issue was important because it showed how the local leadership wasn’t strong. But a large anti-BJP wave helped the party in all places and the controversy played a crucial part,” he said.