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Under graft cloud, the former Gujarat minister who once led state’s biggest dairy

Vipul Chaudhary who once sided with Shankersinh Vaghela in BJP rebellion arrested over alleged irregularities worth Rs 800 crore at Dudhsagar Dairy.

Chaudhary, whose father Mansinh was the founder-chairman of Dudhsagar Dairy, took the reins of the cooperative in 2005 after his mentor Motibhai Chaudhary passed away and ran it till 2016. (File)

He sided with Shankersinh Vaghela during his rebellion against the BJP in 1996, became the Minister of State for Home, followed Vaghela to the Congress, and once led Gujarat’s biggest milk cooperative Dudhsagar Dairy. On Thursday, Vipul Chaudhary was arrested over alleged irregularities worth Rs 800 crore at the dairy in Mehsana.

Chaudhary, whose father Mansinh was the founder-chairman of Dudhsagar Dairy, took the reins of the cooperative in 2005 after his mentor Motibhai Chaudhary passed away and ran it till 2016. The alleged irregularities occurred at the time, according to the Gujarat Police’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) that also arrested the former minister’s personal assistant Shailesh Parikh.

Chaudhary studied engineering at Ahmedabad’s LD Engineering College and was active in student politics. Owing to his family’s proximity to Vaghela, Chaudhary joined the BJP and was elected the MLA from Mansa in 1995. He also became the rural development minister. This was a time of political crises in Gujarat. As Vaghela rebelled against the BJP and broke away in 1996, Chaudhary followed suit. Vaghela floated his outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Party, and formed a government with the help of the Congress. Chaudhary was appointed the Minister of State for home and to date is the youngest home minister Gujarat has had.

His political slide began in 1998 when he lost the Assembly elections from Kheralu to the Congress’s Shankarji Thakor. Subsequently, when Vaghela merged his party with the Congress, Chaudhary joined the grand old party. However, Chaudhary is later believed to have parted ways with Vaghela after developing serious differences with him.

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Shifting allegiances

The state registrar of cooperatives sacked Chaudhary in January 2007 on charges of alleged irregularities in recruitment in Dudhsagar Dairy’s unit in Manesar, Haryana. This was after the dairy appointed Dr Verghese Kurien, known as the father of the White Revolution, as an advisor and recruited his personal assistant PA Joseph.

In September of that year, Chaudhary quit the Congress and returned to the BJP in the presence of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Three months later, Chaudhary even got an Assembly election ticket from Bhiloda in Aravalli district but lost to the Congress’s Anil Joshiyara. The following year, Chaudhary was re-elected the chairperson of the Mehsana District Cooperative Milk Producers Union (MDCMPU) that manages Dudhsagar Dairy’s operations.

In 2010, then GCMMF chairperson P Bhatol accused Chaudhary of engineering his exit from the cooperative body. Two years later, in August, the former minister was elected unopposed as GCMMF chairperson. But, facing allegations of financial irregularities and poor decision-making, 14 GCMMF board members served a no-confidence motion in October 2013.

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The possible triggers for the move against Chaudhary were his meeting with then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in October 2013 and Arjun Modhvadia, the state Congress chief at the time, writing to the party’s central leadership in Delhi about appointing Chaudhary the chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board.

Court battles ensued and Chaudhary ceased to be the GCMMF chairperson in 2014 after the Gujarat High Court upheld the no-confidence motion passed against him. The following year, in January 2015, the state registrar for cooperatives issued a show-cause notice to Chaudhary over alleged irregularities at Dudhsagar Dairy. He was accused of misappropriation in the production of cattle feed. That March, the state registrar for cooperative societies removed Chaudhary as the MDCMPU’s chairperson and banned him from contesting cooperative body polls for three years.

Chaudhary was elected Dudhsagar Dairy’s chairperson in January 2016 but, in April, the Supreme Court upheld his disqualification from the post.

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The former minister formed the Arbuda Sena, a voluntary group of members of the Chaudhary community, this year. Chaudharys are said to influence the electoral outcome in around 15 Assembly constituencies in north Gujarat. At present, Dudhsagar Dairy is headed by the BJP’s Ashok Chaudhary who defeated the Vipul Chaudhary-led panel in January 2021, while the neighbouring Banas Dairy is headed by BJP leader Shankar Chaudhary.

FIRs against Chaudhary

In the past few years, there have been a few FIRs registered against Chaudhary and his aides. On December 11, 2020, an FIR was registered against the former minister at the Gandhinagar Crime Investigation Department (CID). Dudhsagar Dairy allegedly lost Rs 22.5 crore in a bonus issuance scam between July 29 and October 31, 2019.

The root of this scam was allegedly another offence from 2014 when the Mehsana City B-Division police station registered an FIR against the former minister in connection with his decision as GCMMF chairperson to supply 22.50 metric tons of cattle feed worth Rs 22 crore for free to drought-affected areas of Maharashtra.

Another FIR was registered at the Mehsana B-division Police Station on October 13, 2015, against Chaudhary and 19 others for an alleged Rs 17-crore sugar purchase scam. This was based on a complaint by PS Upadhyay, the district registrar of cooperative societies in Mehsana. Upadhyay is also the complainant in the case in which the ACB arrested Chaudhary.

First published on: 18-09-2022 at 16:05 IST
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