Monday Musings: Politics, drama and power co-op bank polls has it all
PUNE The elections for District Central Cooperative (DCC) banks would otherwise go unnoticed given the limited financial clouts these institutions hold. It wasn’t really the case this time.
If the defeat of Shashikant Shinde and some other local leaders made headlines during these polls in Satara in November, last week saw elections for Sindhudurg DCC bank polls dominating the news cycle with Union minister Narayan Rane and his younger son Nitesh under focus from media.
The media went overboard, some may say, in covering the elections. But there was politics, drama, and conflict - some of the basic determinants to make a good story.
But beyond that, there was a stiff tussle from both sides to take these DCC banks under control. The same was at display in Satara where Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Shashikant Shinde suffered defeat for the post of board of directors at DCC bank by one vote from nearest rival and NCP rebel Dyandev Ranjane. As the news of poll loss reached, a group of Shinde supporters reached the NCP office in Satara city and pelted stones.
At Sindhudurg, just before the polls, Nitesh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Kankavali, was booked in an attempt to murder case after the assault on Santosh Parab, who was among those leading the charge of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in the district bank polls. A local court had rejected his anticipatory bail plea even as Nitesh was still missing. Rane senior took things in his control and ensured his panel surges ahead. Finally, the BJP led panel having loyalists of Rane won 11 out of 19 seats, regaining the control of the bank that lends money to farmers, fishermen, mills and other industries.
The violence for an election witnessing heated contests followed by police action and underlying politics offered everything that journalists would have looked up to. So why in such polls do we see battles that the upcoming state elections may also witness?
The polls for cooperative banks are crucial as these institutions play an important role in funding various businesses including cooperative sugar mills and other industries controlled by political leaders.
So, if a particular politician controls the bank, lending finance to other institutions or businesses under him becomes easier. This is what has happened in Maharashtra over the decades. In a way, control of the cooperative framework meant a consolidation of political, economic and social power. The stronger the grip over cooperative banks, sugar mills, credit societies, the more are chances to sway voters, who are also the shareholders in these institutions.
The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) action against Jarandeshwar Sahkari Sugar Karkhana, a sugar mill located in Satara district, is a classic case in point. The ED in June 2021 had attached a sugar mill, linked to deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and over ₹65 crores were attached under the anti-money laundering law after it was alleged that the mill was fraudulently sold by the then officials and directors of Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank at throw-away prices to their relatives. The bank was then controlled by directors who were mostly politicians with Pawar being one.
The bank lent money without following due procedure to several sugar mills including Jarandeshwar Sahkari Sugar Karkhana and then sold them to their kith and kin at throw-away prices when they were unable to repay the loans, thus causing loss to the bank. Pawar has denied all the charges saying there were illegalities and the mill was sold as per High Court’s directions.
This is not a one-off case in Maharashtra where a politician controlling bank, which has financed sugar mills or other businesses without following due procedure. The Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank- the apex bank of 31 district co-operative banks - has seen a series of investigations in the past eight years—a National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development report, state government inquiries, and a private complaint.
The political nexus is unmissable. This has been on for decades as cooperative barons perfected the model of wielding political power through farm co-operatives and district co-operative banks. Yashwantrao Chavan, Vasantdada Patil and, to a lesser extent, Shankarrao Chavan were stalwarts of the cooperative political economy. The Marathas dominated the sector. In the past three decades, Pawar became its symbol. Before the 2019 state assembly polls, an ambitious BJP keen to deepen its footprint in rural Maharashtra tried to ensure several defections among NCP and Congress whose leaders switched loyalties overnight.
In most instances during the past three decades, co-operatives had chairmen who had contested or won parliamentary or assembly elections. Having a stronger grip over sugar co-operatives help politicians rise in the party and governmental hierarchy, which in turn get them nominated to the boards of other co-operatives, especially banks. Thus, a “two-way” relationship guarantees money and political power.
The members of cooperative banks or sugar mills are however mostly poor to middle-income farmers. They are often a captive vote bank for the politician-co-operative chiefs.
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