Lok Sabah elections 2019: In parched villages, Banas dairy matters in election

At a milk collection centre in Lakhani village of Banaskantha district. (Express Photo: Ritu Sharma)

With 4 lakh milk farmers alone in Banaskantha Lok Sabha constituency, Asia's largest milk union - Banaskantha District Co-operative Milk Producers Union Limited, popularly known as Banas Dairy - plays an important role in determining who wins from there.

With both the rival candidates - BJP's Parbatbhai Patel and Congress's Parthibhai Bhatol - being the incumbent directors of Banas Dairy, the milk co-operative body gets more spotlight in their respective campaigns. However, it is the Congress candidate who has been aggressively playing the dairy card.

Bhatol, who has been the chairman of the milk union for 24 years - from 1991 to 2015 - apart from twice being president of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Limited, also known as Amul, considers that his resume has an edge over his BJP opponent - Parbatbhai Patel, the sitting Minister of State for Water Supply and Irrigation, since he has never been the chairman of Banas Dairy.

"When I took over as the chairman (of Banas Dairy) in 1991, the milk procurement was only 70,000 litres, but in 2015 I took it to 50 lakh litres and made it Asia's largest dairy, you all know that," Bhatol tells a villagers of Kant.

"You all know this is Asia's largest dairy. How much prices increased, how much profit percentage increased, what other facilities were given, you all know… I took people of all communities along with me and progressed, and did injustice to none," he adds.

However, his detractor and incumbent chairman of Banas Dairy and former minister Shankar Chaudhary say that Bhatol’s pitch of his past leadership at the dairy would not cut ice with the voters. "The farmers income has doubled in the last four years - from Rs 287 crore (in 2013-14) to Rs 573 crore in 2018-19," says Chaudhary, who has been the chairman since 2015 and is backing the BJP.

The BJP candidate, however, ruled out contesting on the "dairy card". "People are with those who has satta (power). So, there is no use of raising old issues, no need to say what one has done in his past…Parthibhai is saying in his campaigns that he was in dairy he had done this and done that. He did but what now? If he is elected, Congress will not be coming to power. So, people want to know what will he do if he is elected, what will he do there (Parliament)," Patel says.