Milk politics: BJP grabs KMF as saffron chapter begins

Milk politics: BJP grabs KMF as saffron chapter begins

Balachandra Jarkiholi

Eyeing consolidation of the vote bank at the grass-root level through “milk politics”, the ruling BJP on Saturday effortlessly grabbed control of the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) — the second-largest cooperative milk federation in the country. In a setback to former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda’s family, the BJP ensured that its candidate Balachandra L Jarkiholi was elected unopposed as JD(S) leader H D Revanna withdrew his nomination at the last minute.

The battle for the KMF chairman’s post turned out to be a game of corralling with both the JD(S) and BJP trying to grab the post. The federation, with over 24 lakh registered milk producers spread across 14 different milk unions across Karnataka, has always been a milch cow for political parties to find their way to voters’ hearts.

Successive governments had doled out populist programmes through the KMF by hiking subsidy on milk and passing on the benefit to farmers. Built on the strong platform of cooperative ideology, the KMF has its presence in 22,000 villages. According to a JD(S) leader, no other position in the state is as powerful as the KMF.

Dealing with 65 different milk and sweet products and livestock feed, the federation witnesses transactions worth crores of rupees a day, making it the most powerful department in the state.

“Besides, the chairman has additional funds from the state and Centre at his disposal to reach out to masses and create a votebank,” a senior Congress leader said.

“There is hardly any government interference as the federation is a cooperative body with the chairman enjoying a free hand. With an annual turnover of more than Rs 15,000 crore, the federation is a cash cow from which the party milks the benefits and transforms them into votes. Unlike other beneficiary programmes riddled with pilferage, KMF provides direct linkage with rural and semi-urban population which can decide the fate of any party,” the JD(S) leader explained.

A senior BJP legislator said, “KMF has a considerable role in Gowda’s stronghold on state politics. Revanna had controlled the body for about 15 years and ensured that their supporters get a place in the union. With wide scope for favourite and opportunistic politics without any intervention, everybody loves the post.”

Surprisingly, the ruling BJP hardly has any representation in the 14 milk unions whose directors have the voting power to elect the chairman and three government representatives. Most of these milk unions are dominated by either JD(S) or Congress leaders. However, a few directors supported by the Congress revealed to DH that their top brass directed them to support the government candidate.

In fact, Jarkiholi, besides being a strong and influential leader in the cooperative sector of Belagavi district, also owns a distillery in Belagavi.


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