Gujarat elections: BJP, Congress milking dairy cooperatives to reap political gains
And as Gujarat gears up to vote for a new assembly by the year-end, the dairy sector is back in focus as lakhs of people associated with it form a significant vote bank.Updated: Oct 09, 2017 07:57 IST
In early 2016, when 50-year-old Rajendra Patel was left jobless after the factory where he worked shut down, his father-in-law bought him two cows to keep him afloat.
Like several families in his village on the outskirts of Anand, he. too, started supplying milk to the Gopalpara Mandli (village cooperative), which is connected to Amul. This is one of the two village cooperatives (Haldol is the other) whose formation in 1946 served as the founding unit of what has now become a statewide three-tier supply chain of world renowned dairy brand Amul. The brand is promoted by Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF).
Seventy years after Amul was established to empower dairy farmers, people like Patel continue to depend on the movement that led to Operation Flood, the country’s milk revolution.
And as Gujarat gears up to vote for a new assembly by the year-end, the dairy sector is back in focus as lakhs of people associated with it form a significant vote bank.
The ruling BJP claims to have total control on this vote bank, with its members heading virtually all the milk cooperative unions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Banaskantha last year to inaugurate an Amul milk plant points to the relevance of the dairy cooperative in Gujarat politics.
“In 18 months my cattle count went up to seven. Through milk supply, we earn as much as Rs 25,000 per month. On the one bigha land that I own, I grow fodder for my cattle,” says Patel.
“If there was no Amul, people would have resorted to crime and looting due to poverty and unemployment in rural Gujarat,” says Shivkumar Mukhi, who heads Gopalpara Mandli. “I was 10 when Mandli and Amul started functioning. I remember how village elders used to take milk in cans to the dairy in Anand. Today, we supply milk through tankers of 3,000 litre capacity,” he adds.
Brand Amul’s growth
Set up in 1946 on the suggestions of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to bypass middlemen, Amul, with the cooperatives as its backbone, has grown into a dairy behemoth. Today, its daily procurement touches 200 lakh litres, making it Asia’s largest milk brand.
During the last phase of the Modi-led state government, GCMMF’s turnover jumped almost 350% from Rs 8,000 crore in 2009-2010 to Rs 27,000 crore in 2016-2017.
The BJP credits itself for strengthening the network. “From 10,500 village cooperatives in 2003-2004, its number today is 18,000. Dairy unions have increased from 11 to 18. The milk co-operatives are almost Congress-mukt and growing,” says BJP spokesperson Bharta Pandya. Today, all 18 district unions have BJP chairmen.
The Congress accuses the BJP of manipulation. “Though the cooperatives have been operational since Independence, the Congress never interfered in their functioning. This is why the party lost representation in the sector. But the BJP has brought in politics to wrest control,” says Mohan Patel, Congress’ cooperative cell chief.
Milkmen as voteBank
Political observers say that while Amul founder Tribhuvandas Patel was apolitical, the late Verghese Kurien – the father of Operation Flood – did his best to prevent milkmen from turning into a vote bank.
“Until Kurien was around, the BJP could never directly dictate GCMMF. So it adopted the bottom-up approach. Soon, cooperatives turned into milkmen votes and the chairman and the board became tools to mobilise rural masses,” says journalist RK Mishra.
Through elaborate agriculture festivals and international farmers’ seminars, the BJP tapped the massive network of 36 lakh milk producers.
The Congress and BJP have often wrestled to gain control of every link in the dairy chain. Though, at the district level, the Congress’ dominance has almost vanished now.