With a power shift in the state and a BJP-led government set to rule, a change in co-operative bodies is in the offing. The party is likely to set its sights on co-operatives in the state, which are keys to the fortunes of the NCP and the Congress, especially in Western Maharashtra.
A stranglehold on co-operatives, be it sugar factories, co-operative banks or dairy units, gives political leaders control over economic activity and an opportunity to provide patronage to people. It has been a successful model and is reflected in dominance, for years, of the NCP and the Congress which control over 60 per cent of cooperative bodies including banks, sugar mills and marketing federation.
Maharashtra has 168 co-operative sugar factories, 516 co-operative banks, 108 co-operative dairy units and over 28,000 primary agriculture credit societies. The deposits of co-operative banks aggregate Rs 1,73,800 crore, 68 per cent of deposits of co-operative banks in the country.
The NCP and Congress have reason to worry with a BJP government in power. Years ago, Amit Shah, now the BJP president, marginalised the Congress which had control over co-operatives in Gujarat. A resurgent BJP in Maharashtra can be expected to replicate this, especially with elections to co-operatives bodies are in December. Control over cooperative bodies would ensure the party cements its power base in Maharashtra.
NCP leaders control almost 60 per cent of the 168 cooperative sugar factories. Maharashtra produces over 60 per cent of India’s sugar and 16 per cent of the state is under sugarcane cultivation. Co-operative sugar mills are key to economic growth in rural areas where they generate employment and contribute to infrastructure. Over the past few years, the sector has been hit by charges of corruption with 28 cooperative factories mired in debt being sold to private players while 36 are under liquidation.
Sugar factories helped NCP and Congress to wield enormous influence in the state, particularly in rural areas of Western Maharashtra.
A senior NCP leader from Solapur (which has the highest number of co-operative sugar factories in the state) conceded that the only way BJP can consolidate its hold in the hinterland is by controlling sugar factories.
“Sugar factories hold the purse strings in rural areas. Any party that controls this rural economy will be powerful and we expect the BJP to try to make inroads in this sector also,” he told The Indian Express.
BJP MLA from Maval Balasaheb Bhegde said the party would set its sights on the co-operative sector in due course. Bhegde is on the board of directors of Sant Tukaram Cooperative Sugar Factory in Pune. “Once the government is in place, the party will think about its strategy to get power in this sector,” he said.
But Vijaysingh Mohite Patil, chairman of the Maharashtra State Co-operative Sugar Factories Federation, dismissed any tectonic shift. Mohite-Patil, the NCP MP from Madha, said, “Co-operative bodies are largely impacted by local politics rather than who rules the state or the Centre.”