Why Amit Shah handling Union cooperatives ministry is matter of concern

Shah was director of Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank of Ketan Parekh scam fame

When it was announced in 2021 that the overburdened Union Home Minister Amit Shah was to be given additional charge of the newly constituted Union ministry of cooperatives, I frankly wondered what the motive might be. It hardly seemed par for the course that the virtual number two in the government should want to add such a minor portfolio to his bulging responsibilities.

I remembered meeting Dr V. Kurien at Raj Bhavan as part of my district training in Gujarat as an IFS probationer in 1964. Kurien had just started giving impetus to the milk cooperative at Anand that has now grown into the giant Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation with 3.64 million members, and procurement daily of some 26 million litres of milk. Kurien declared his ambition to make Amul cheese as good as Kraft. Now, Amul cheese has long become a household word while Kraft is remembered only by senior citizens.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

One of those most responsible for Amul’s startling success is Rupinder Singh Sodhi, whose twelve-year term as managing director was suddenly terminated at the GCMMF board meeting on January 9, 2023. The abrupt dismissal letter, brusque to the point of rudeness, bluntly said, “…Your services as MD are being terminated with immediate effect… ordered that you hand over charge immediately”. No word of appreciation for services rendered. No expression of gratitude for 40 years of unstinted service to the organisation. No thanks for taking the organisation to an altogether different dimension. No reference to Sodhi having asked to be relieved when his term ended, and then being given an extension that he had not sought. Just an order to go, as if he had been hanging on undeservedly or had done something execrably wrong.

Sodhi himself took the end graciously. Like the gentlemen he is, he simply commented, “I have resigned… I have been telling the board I want to pursue other things.” He added, “It was my own decision.”

This has not convinced the media. One writer described Sodhi as having been “ousted”; another referred to the “shock and surprise” caused by his dismissal; a third said it “raises disturbing questions”. A journalist cited a board member saying, “…We were informed that it was the party’s decision to not allow Sodhi to continue… it was a decision from the party, and nothing could be done about it”.

Do you now see why I was concerned at the announcement that Shah had been given additional charge of cooperatives? His own explanation was that he had a long association with the cooperative movement. He did not add that this included a previous directorship with the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank that was at the heart of the Ketan Parekh stock market scam. I was a member of the joint parliamentary committee set up to investigate the shenanigans. The key to the scam was the huge sums of money borrowed quite illegally and often overnight by Parekh from the cooperative that ultimately bankrupted the bank. Parekh was arrested in August 2004. A few months later, the CBI court granted him conditional bail. But as Parekh was unable to discharge his debt of around 1800 crore to the cooperative bank, his incarceration continued. Controversies persist regarding the alleged connection between Parekh and the ruling party in Gujarat, but these allegations now stand lost in the labyrinth through which the case is wending its way.

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.