The Cooperative Contention: Amit Shah's Ministry of Cooperation
Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Anand Milk Union Ltd., better known as Amul, started in 1946 in order to retaliate against the exploitation that milkmen faced at the hands of middlemen in cities. Milk Farmers joined forces and came together to achieve their aim of the white revolution, making it the world’s largest producer of milk and dairy products.
Several other Cooperative Societies have been formed over the years to act as a stepping stone for those who lack resources and help. However, unlike Amul, a significant number of these are not success stories. Studies have indicated that there is grave dearth of funds in several states and the implementation of the ideas is poor due to lack of knowledge and poor training of officers. These societies are also often taken over by wealthy farmers, who become chairmen and run the society in accordance to their whims.
With the goal of trying to protect the rights of these cooperative societies that are the backbone of the rural economy, on 6th July 2021, the Press Information Bureau of India announced the creation of a separate ‘Ministry of Cooperation.’ The press release said “This ministry will provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening the cooperative movement in the country.” A day later, it was announced that Amit Shah will be taking over the ministry.
The announcement left many people wondering why a separate ministry had to be created by the union government, considering the fact that cooperatives come under the jurisdiction of State Governments. Additionally, the Reserve Bank of India [RBI] keeps an eye on cooperative banks.
Despite the principal power lying with the state governments, the centre keeps tabs on the societies, as the Union agriculture ministry has a division to supervise cooperatives. However, due to the extensive focus on agriculture, the ministry has not paid substantial attention to the cooperatives.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has defended the creation of the new ministry and has also stated that there is nothing wrong with the ministry being given to Amit Shah, saying “I think that the cooperation ministry is with party leader Amit Shah as his leadership has emerged from the cooperative sector. He has a big name in the development of the cooperative sector in Gujarat and has much experience in the sector.”
In Maharashtra, the access to the local finances are in the hands of the local institution, hence, even with BJP in power, control over cooperative institutions lay with NCP and Congress. Cooperative societies in Maharashtra, ranging from village level to cooperative housing societies, select their leaders through elections, with their members voting for the board of directors. On the other hand, in Gujarat, Amit Shah was the head of the Ahmedabad District Central Cooperative Bank for a significantly long time.
Already jumping into action, Shah held a meeting and asked cooperative societies such as Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative and Krishak Bharati Cooperative to work with seed production and organic farming. He also guaranteed that the centre is dedicated towards strengthening the cooperative movement in India, ensuring that the benefits go to even the lowest levels. He also assured the deputation that the benefits and concessions provided to Farmer Producer Organisations [FPOs] will also be given to primary agriculture cooperatives.
Congress, however, is in vehement opposition to the creation of this ministry, labelling the move “Political Mischief” and that it is “assault on the federal structure of the country” stating that most of the impact of this move will be felt in Gujarat and Maharashtra, where there is an abundance of big cooperative societies. They believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] will attempt to gain control over these societies, which are largely controlled by the Congress and Nationalist congress party, with the help of this ministry.
Keeping in mind the vested interest the current government has in eradication of middlemen in agriculture, along with the ongoing farmer’s protests, we can infer that the ministry will be used to offer potential ‘solutions’ to the involved parties. The main questions that lie ahead are, can the ministry satisfy the farmer’s demands and what impact will the creation of this ministry have on the outcome of the 2024 elections?
Biswas, P. (2021, July 15). Explained: Why a Ministry of Cooperation. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-a-cooperation-ministry-7395784/
Sriram. (2021). Why Is the New Ministry of Cooperation Creating Anxiety, but Not Aspiration? The Wire.
News Desk. (2021, July 10). He Means Business: Amit Shah In Action Ahead of Assuming Charge Of Ministry Of Cooperation. News18. https://www.news18.com/news/india/he-means-business-amit-shah-in-action-ahead-of-assuming-charge-of-ministry-of-cooperation-3948614.html
Amit Shah: BloombergQuint