BJP winning Karnataka Milk Federation poll a setback to Deve Gowda’s JD(S)
Karnataka Milk Federation has for long been dominated by the Janata Parivar. In 35 years of its existence, the milk cooperative has had a Janata Parivar chairman for 19 years, including a term by former chief minister Siddaramaiah in 1984.Updated: Sep 01, 2019 11:02 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party scored a minor coup on Saturday after its MLA Balachandra Jarkiholi was unanimously elected chairman of the Karnataka Milk Federation, the second largest milk cooperative in the country.
Karnataka Milk Federation has for long been dominated by the Janata Parivar. In 35 years of its existence, the milk cooperative has had a Janata Parivar chairman for 19 years, including a term by former chief minister Siddaramaiah in 1984.
To be sure, this is not the first time a BJP candidate is helming the federation. Mining baron Somashekhar Reddy, younger brother of Janardhana Reddy, was its chairman between 2009 and 2014. However, the manner of the BJP’s victory this time around showed a new resolve to make inroads into the cooperative sector, which it had so far overlooked.
Saturday’s result came after a dramatic month of political brinkmanship that included resort stays by voting members. This poll story began even as the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government was collapsing in the state. Then public works minister HD Revanna, who is the representative of the Hassan district union, forced the KMF to hold elections on July 28, even though the previous chairman’s term was set to end in September. He had even carted away some district union delegates to a resort, in a move reminiscent of the resort politics practiced by MLAs in the state.
To be elected chairman, a member requires the majority of votes from a board consisting of representatives of the 14 district milk unions, two state government officials from the cooperation and animal husbandry departments, one elected nominee of the government and one representative of the National Dairy Development Board. The KMF managing director, a government servant, is a board member, but doesn’t enjoy voting rights.
The BJP thwarted Revanna’s plan through a series of manouevres by first cancelling elections on July 28 and then winning over eight district representatives who were Congress supporters to add to its two members. The JD(S) with just three members could do little to change this, as the government representatives usually vote for the person the government picks. Facing imminent defeat, Revanna dropped out of the race on Saturday.
In picking Jarkiholi, chief minister BS Yediyurappa ensured that he placated an MLA who was disgruntled at not being included in the state cabinet. The move also allowed the Jarkiholis to try and consolidate their hold on the sector — Jarkiholi’s nephew is the executive of Belagavi district — adding to their significant clout in the sugar cooperative sector.
Though political representatives are elected as chairmen, Basavaraj Arabagund, the representative of the Dharwad milk union, added a caveat. “These elections are not conducted on political lines,” he said. “Of course, we do privately support different political parties, but we also ensure that the chairman belongs to the party at the helm to increase our bargaining power,” he said.
A senior BJP leader said the party is seriously looking at making inroads in the cooperative sector as it attempted to strike at the roots of the JD(S)’s appeal among farmers, especially in southern Karnataka. The district unions of the southern regions of the state predominate in terms of milk production, as the northern districts predominantly produce buffalo’s milk.
The BJP is taking a leaf out of the JD(S) playbook as Revanna has been the KMF president for 11 years in total.
Speaking after the elections, Revanna said he withdrew from the contest as he did not want to split the federation. “I backed out because the farmers of this state should not face problems because of HD Deve Gowda’s family,” Revanna said after the elections.
After his election, Jarkiholi said he would work along with the government and ensure that the farmers receive better income from milk sales. “I will work along with everybody, especially because everybody cooperated in making me the chairman,” he said.
The interest in the KMF comes at a time when it has seen a surge in its importance in the agricultural sector. The KMF has 25 lakh members and an annual turnover of Rs 14,500 crore, said MT Kulkarni director of marketing at the federation. It is second only to Amul, in terms of procurement per day, which peaked last year at 84.5 lakh litres a day, membership and turnover.
Additionally, there has been a shift in agricultural activities in the state and dairying has increasingly become one of the main sources of income for farmers. Between 2001-02 and 2017-18, annual production has increased from 47 lakh tonnes to 71 lakh tonnes.
Though these production numbers are not high when compared to other states, KMF benefits from the grassroots-level organisation of village milk societies and, of course, farmers’ preference for the federation as the state government provides an incentive of Rs 5 (soon to be Rs 6) over and above the rate at which it is procured by the dairy. This often translates to an income of a minimum of Rs 31 per litre around Bengaluru.
This fact was underlined by a recent study, D Rajashekhar and R Manjula of the Institute of Social and Economic Change found that for 66% of farmer respondents in the state, dairying provided over 50% of total income.
On the supply side, the KMF has ensured continued demand by selling milk at a low Rs 35 a litre, the lowest price for a litre of toned milk anywhere in the country, according to the company’s executives.
Indeed, it was the decision to provide incentives that changed the game for the KMF. This was begun when Yediyurappa became chief minister in 2008 and announced a Rs 2 incentive per litre.
Beginning 2010, the KMF saw a flood of milk, with daily procurement increasing from 35 lakh litres a day in that year to the present average of 80 lakh litres a day.
In fact, such was the bounty from the dairy sector that the KMF was briefly hit by excess stock, which was utilised by former chief minister Siddaramaiah to launch his Ksheera Bhagya scheme of providing 150 ML of milk for five days a week to school students, which at last count had 1.03 crore beneficiaries.
Political analyst Narendar Pani, who is faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said the Janata Party and Deve Gowda realised the importance of the cooperatives in the 1980s. “This is their primary mode of outreach to farmers,” he said. “It is, in fact, their continued hold of the cooperatives, especially milk unions that has ensured their survival,” he said.