Sugar barons back the BJP, weaken the Congress-NCP hold on western Maharashtra

23 October 2019
R Modi/Dinodia Photo
R Modi/Dinodia Photo

Ahead of the 2019 assembly elections, the Congress leader Satej Patil, a former minister of state for home in Maharashtra, actively campaigned for the party’s candidate for the Kolhapur South assembly, who is also his nephew, Ruturaj Patil. The Patils belong to an influential family in Kolhapur district, situated in Maharashtra’s sugar belt. It runs various enterprises including schools, colleges and the DY Patil Sahakari Shakar Karkhana, a sugar cooperative that has around thirty-thousand farmers as members.

Historically, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party have enjoyed electoral dominance in western Maharashtra because of their hold on its sugar cooperatives. This nexus generated financial and organisational muscle which resulted in electoral successes. But, in the past five years, many of the parties’ sugar barons defected over to the ruling Bharatya Janata Party. By Satej’s own admission, the ruling party has succeeded “in dislodging the Congress and NCP from the sugar cooperatives.”

Maharashtra produces the highest amount of sugarcane in the country after Uttar Pradesh. While the latter largely has private sugar mills, the model of cooperatives is dominant in Maharashtra. In 1950, the industrialist Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil set up the first sugar cooperative in Ahmednagar district. Around that time, cooperatives were established in various spheres, such as banking, credit societies, marketing societies, fisheries and poultry. But sugar factories remained the cream of the cooperatives and became a political currency in Maharashtra.

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    Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

    Keywords: Assembly elections 2019 Maharashtra Nationalist Congress Party Congress