The Basavanagudi Co-operative Society which came into existence in 1908 because of a few service-minded individuals, continues to survive in the age of supermarket chains.
Think Basavanagudi and a whole lot of things come to your mind. It is one of the oldest localities of Bangalore. It is home to landmark educational institutions and some of the oldest food joints where heated debates and discussions between politicians, writers and thinkers took place. The area has old temples intertwined with the history of Bangalore and institutions like the Ramakrishna Mission and Theosophical Society dot the locality. Important personalities from various walks of life such as Navarathna Ramarao, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Dr. H. Narasimhaiah, D.V. Gundappa and others lived in Gandhi Bazaar. Major bookstores, publishing houses and the Basavanagudi Club worked out of this locality. Bang at the Gandhi Bazaar circle is the landmark institution Basavanagudi Co-operative Club (BASCO), which came into formal existence in 1908. With a hundred years behind it, BASCO triumphantly marches on, holding aloft the torch of co-operative movement.
“Currently, we have 8033 members and nearly 250 fair price depots in South Bangalore come under the jurisdiction of BASCO. Our share capital stands at Rs. 32 lakh of which one third belongs to the government. We have been identified to supply for the Anna Bhagya scheme as well,” says M. Boregowda, President, BASCO, as he holds out a booklet that was printed way back in 1958. “Bangalore has many co-operative societies, most of which have had to close down barring a few. We are number one in the state,” continues Boregowda.
Though BASCO got registered only in 1908, enthusiastic youngsters of what used to be called Basavapura in those days, plunged into the service of the locality in early 1904. This group of 17 members went to the City Market every day, shopped vegetables and groceries for their neighbourhood and sold it at a small margin, much lesser than what it cost in shops. The piece of land on which BASCO stands today was bought in 1899 itself, and all the transactions by the group happened here. It was registered under the co-operative act it as the Basavanagudi Wholesale Central Store. “Jaggery was sourced from Bidadi, dhal from Gulbarga, firewood, coal… we practise the same even today,” explains Boregowda. The Mysore kings, the Wadiyars encouraged the co-operative movement in a big way and in the following years even sent a delegation to London to study the workings. In fact, some of the founder members like Modur Lakshminaranaiah, R. Venkataramanaiah and P. Madhava Rao lived up to the golden jubilee celebrations of the society and offered their services. Continued from Page 1
In 1936, Gandhi came visiting National College and Yuvaka Sangha, he even paid a visit to the co-operative society. Records say that Gandhi was impressed with the way the society was functioning and heaped praises on its members. The members of BASCO to this day treasure the certificate of appreciation that Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar gave them in 1948. They are also elated that a dignitary like Sir M. Visvesvaraya graced their golden jubilee celebrations at Glass House Lalbagh in 1958.
“The Big Bazaars, Metros and other supermarket chains have given us a big blow. We go to the APMC yard, pay regulated market commission, all our transactions are billed and audited. We believe in ethical practises. It is hard to compete with them. But you can check with our members or any of the institutions that we supply to, there in no compromise on quality,” says Boregowda emphatically.
In the late 90s, BASCO had set up 10 supermarkets in Bangalore, but all of them had to close down. Most of their products and brands were indigenous and only customers who valued it, shopped. The kind of products that the other supermarkets put on their shelves was too competitive and addressed a whole range of customers, which was difficult for an institution that believed in co-operative principles. In fact, BASCO has recently requested the government to allow them to supply food items to institutions like the Social Welfare Department, KPTCL, Navodaya Schools and the Central Jail.
BASCO today has property worth Rs. 50 crore across the city and they have rented it out to institutions that are pro-people and society. “There are organic markets in some of our buildings. They work directly with farmers.” BASCO wants to set up a water plant in their cellar. “I don’t want to charge people like other commercial players in the market do. We will sell at 20 litre can for Rs. 10 and call it Basava. We want to be useful to people who find it difficult to live in this expensive city, explains Boregowda.
BASCO has requested the government to give them a place where their centenary building can be built. They want to build a hall and have a huge bazaar. “People can use the hall for a modest rent. The market is now ripe for all things desi and organic. We will sell products that are made by our own people. People built the co-operative movement through a lot of struggle and sacrifice. It is important to keep it alive,” he says.
The imagination of the country has been captured by a new kind of politics – clean and promising. Maybe it’s also the right moment for co-operatives to make a come back. BASCO’s century is indeed a huge achievement.
Ups and downs
A small booklet that BASCO released 55 years ago speaks of how the early history of the society marks the history of the progress of the co-operative movement in Mysore. It took eight years for the society to gain its feet after they were registered. In this period, the society was guided by M. Shama Rao, the first registrar of the co-operative societies in the State of Mysore. By the year 1915, their operations became steady and the investing public gained confidence in BASCO. With increased investments, better functioning was ensured, and successive office bearers of the institution strived to keep this effort going.
However, the Second World War had its adverse effects on the economy of the country and BASCO was not spared. After 1942, business dropped and the branches that were started in Gutthalli and Mavalli areas had to be closed down in the broader interests of the Institution. The workings of BASCO were re-modelled and by 1948, things began to look up. It was during this year, that the Mysore king bestowed upon them the co-operative shield for their efforts to keep the movement going.