The Amul story: How politics is hurting the economics of Gujarat’s milk cooperatives

In the winter of 2013, the inner workings of Amul briefly became public. A boardroom putsch was underway. The directors of no less than 14 of the 17 district milk cooperatives that were then part of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which owns the Amul brand, had turned against chairman Vipul Chaudhary. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Chaudhary was part of the Shanker Singh Vaghela-faction that had branched out as a separate party in 1996 and formed a shortlived government with Congress support. Chaudhary had since then returned to the BJP, but in 2013, others in the Amul federation suspected him of cosying up to the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. This cost him the support of BJP-controlled district milk cooperatives, news reports said.

In the course of the power struggle, serious accusations of financial impropriety surfaced against Chaudhary, who was also the chairman of the milk cooperative at Mehsana. Board members charged him with selling 7,000 tonnes of milk powder at low rates to private buyers, resulting in losses for the Mehsana dairy. It was also alleged that Chaudhary had created excess manufacturing capacities without taking permission from the federation. This had led to a higher interest and depreciation burden, resulting in huge losses, alleged RS Sodhi, the managing director of the federation.

But with public attention focused elsewhere – the 2014 national election was already creating headlines – Amul’s boardroom battle did not get the attention it deserved. In January 2014, the dissidents won. Chaudhary was removed. Amul found itself a new chairman and vice-chairman. A curtain dropped on its functioning all over again.

This year, in August, the curtain parted briefly when Ramsinh Parmar, the MLA from Thasra constituency, left the Congress to join the BJP. Parmar wasn’t just one more MLA deserting the Congress before state assembly elections. As the chairman of the Kaira milk cooperative, he was the last standing non-BJP chairman in the federation.

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