Months before the State is set to go for Assembly elections, Union Home and Cooperation Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Mandya on coming together of two milk cooperatives --- Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) and Gujarat-based Anand Milk Union Ltd. (AMUL) -- has led to a political slugfest.
While Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Cooperation Minister S.T. Somashekar on Sunday clarified that the statement did not mean a merger of the two entities, the Opposition Congress and Janata Dal (S) have lashed out at Mr Shah’s statement, construing that the suggestion was for merger of the two large cooperatives in the country. Mr. Shah on Friday suggested that Amul and Nandini, two successful milk unions, could work towards the welfare of country’s milk producers, initiating a “white revolution”.
Terming the move as injustice to Karnataka, former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said that it was an effort to nullify Karnataka’s development that is ahead of Gujarat. “Why are you (Mr. Shah) showing intolerance towards Karnataka? I suspect it is to make Kannadigas slaves of Gujarat. After subsuming Karnataka-based banks that were a model to the country, this is a hidden agenda,” he said.
With nearly 26 lakh milk producing members across 16 district unions, KMF has reported a turnover of nearly ₹19,800 crore in 2021-2022. Mr. Shah’s pitch in Mandya comes around a time when BJP is trying to make inroads in the Vokkaliga dominated Old Mysore region, and incidentally the top five district milk unions, including Mandya, in the State are in this region. Politically too, the milk unions have played an important role in elections. Multiple leaders in both Janata Dal (S) and Congress said that the controversy would resonate in Assembly elections too.
Another former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah also opposed it, saying any coming together of the two milk federations would result in loss of livelihood for members of Karnataka. “Eyes of the Gujarat corporates are now fixed on the golden egg laying goose. It is an attempt of the BJP to rob Karnataka,” he alleged.
The concern over Mr. Shah’s statement comes in the backdrop of his earlier announcement in Assam in October that the process is on to merge Amul with five milk cooperatives to form a multi-State milk cooperative society, a Congress leader pointed out. “This is not an isolated statement. How can the two come together when they compete in the open market? In fact, coming together will help Amul more in accessing new market that KMF currently has,” he alleged. He pointed out that the KMF’s business could be affected since Amul pays higher commission to its retailers, who would be interested in pushing Amul products over KMF products. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that Nandini would maintain its separate identity ‘for hundreds of years’, and that Mr. Shah had only meant that Nandini and Amul must cooperative in technical and marketing aspects. “The statement should not be misunderstood and politicised.” Cooperation Minister S.T. Somashekar said: “There has been no proposal for merger and 100% Nandini will remain independent.”