“We are not a colony of Gujarat.” Why Lakshadweep is boycotting Amul?

Gujarat’s co-operative dairy federation landed on a fresh row months after it faced netizen’s ire for supporting Sudarshan TV’s UPSC Jihad.

“On 24 May, Arabian Sea ship will land Kavarathi with Amul products. Let’s boycott Amul,” says a message which had gone viral on social media. Gujarat’s co-operative dairy federation landed on a fresh row months after it faced netizen’s ire for supporting Sudarshan TV’s UPSC Jihad.

A circular issued by OP Mishra, Secretary (Animal Husbandry) of UT Lakshadweep on 21 May ordered the veterinary assistant surgeons in Lakshadweep to close all the dairy farms run by the animal husbandry department including bulls, calves, heifers and bucks. The notice also directed the veterinary surgeons in all islands to conduct an auction process before 31 May and dispose the animals on the farm by fixing the reserve price of not more than Rs 250/ kg.

The surgeons were further directed to submit the report to the Animal Husbandry Director after the successful completion of the auction.

India’s smallest Union Territory Lakshadweep is a group of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km, It comprises 11 inhabited islands, 12 uninhabited islands, and 5 attached islets with several sunken banks, open reefs and sand banks. The total population of Lakshadweep as per the 2001 Census is 60,650. Of this, 57,321 persons (94.5 percent) are Scheduled Tribes (STs). At least 97% of the residents are Muslims.

There are two major government dairy farms in Lakshadweep – Kavaratti and Minicoy. Kavaratti farm consists of around 35 cattle while Minicoy farm has 34 cattle.

“Unlike Kerala and many other places, we rely on fresh milk instead of packaged milk in Dweep,” 22 year old Safarulla, General Secretary of the central committee of Lakshadweep Students Association (LSA) told Maktoob. “Although the Kavaratti dairy farm was located at the southern side, they supply milk at a make-shift building near Kavarathi panchayat office. Coupons were provided at the rate of Rs 7/200 ml if you prebook for a month. People stand in a queue to buy the milk usually after 3 pm,” Safarulla said.

Earlier, Animal Husbandry had introduced 50 packets of packaged milk on experimental basis but couldn’t sustain the market.

Interestingly, an order issued by the Special Secretary of the Animal Husbandry on 12 May to the Lakshadweep Cooperative Marketing Federation (LCMF) Secretary and Amul Ernakulam Branch Manager had instructed the LCMF Secretary to facilitate the opening of Amul company outlets at various islands in Lakshadweep.

The Secretary appointed LCMF as the distributor of the Amul dairy products in Lakshadweep.

The order further states, “ LCMF agreed to start the outlet at Kavaratti at first and subsequently expand it to other islands through their cooperative societies.”

As the first ship with the Amul dairy products arrived on the Island on 24 May, the Lakshadweep Development Corporation Limited (LDCL) allotted the space of 150 sqft in the front area of their office at Kavaratti to the LCMF.

“LCMF is not an independent co-operative society. We have limitations as we are semi funded by the administration. The administrator directly gave the quotation to Amul without inviting any tendor from competing companies. Amul’s dry milk products were already familiar in Lakshadweep market. So we didn’t doubt his intention. But the problem lies in the decision to close the government milk dairies,” Kavaratti Co-operative Society Assistant Secretary Cheriya Koya told Maktoob.

According to Kavaratti Village Panchayat Chairperson Abdul Khader, the move to invite the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation to Lakshadweep’s soil is not an isolated incident.

“There are attempts to reduce Lakshadweep as a colony of Gujarat. They are importing everything from Gujarat. They have plans to outsource PWD workers and engineers from Gujarat. The administrator even had plans to import COVID testing equipments from Gujarat. There are attempts to disband the tourism authority SPORT and gave the contract to Amit Shah’s relative,” he alleged.

The Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation( GCMMF) consists of Gujarat state’s 18 dairy cooperative societies. Shamalbhai B Patel is the chairman and Valamjibhai Humbal is the vice-chairman, both of them have close ties with the BJP and were nominated by the BJP leader Ramsinbhai Parmer and Jethabhai Bhardwad respectively. Media reports suggest that majority of the 18 dairy co-operatives in the state are headed by those associated with the BJP. Although its founding members Tribhuvandas Patel and Dr Varghese Kurien had tried to keep politicians out of the dairy business, even the Amul advertisement campaigns hint the country’s favourite dairy’s shift towards the right wing.

On the occasion of the Ram Mandir foundation stone laying ceremony, Amul had released an ad in which the Amul girl can be seen folding her hands in front of the Ram temple with the caption- -“Monumental occasion: All are invited.” Another ad released after the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir had featured two smiling Kashmiri children in a boat in Dal lake with the caption – – ““Union ke har territory mein…The real article”.

Recently, Praful K Patel, the Administrator of Lakshadweep had curtailed the power of Panchayat in five areas- health, education, fisheries, animal husbandry, and agriculture.

“In 2012, the then Administrator had given powers to the District Panchayat to make plans and implement schemes in these five areas. District Panchayat handled funds, managed the staffs and implemented schemes for development in these areas. The new administration curtailed all those power. Administrator directly controls these departments and District Panchayat is reduced to an agency,” Qadar said.

On 28 May, the veterinary assistant surgeon in Kavarathi issued a notice ordering the auction of 35 cattle including bulls, calves, heifers, and bucks at around 2 pm at the dairy farm. The notice further instructed the bidders to pay RS 5,000 as the security deposit and register before 27 May 3 pm.

32 year old Najmuddin, who owns a private dairy farm at Kalpeni told Maktoob that the move to sell bull might affect the small scale dairy farmers who depended on the bulls at government farms for mating their cows. He alleged that animal husbandry, under the new administration, is planning to put an end to dairy farming in the island.

“Previous administration provided subsidies for cattle field at a rate of approx Rs 682 for a sack. The current administration stopped the subsidy and we had to pay at least 1600 for cattle feed,” Najmuddin said.

“The previous administration used to stock dairy cattle feeds at their farms as its difficult to transport it from Kerala during monsoon. The Uru to Beypore will stop in May-September due to adverse weather conditions and passenger ships usually will not take it. But the current administration didn’t stock a single sack and we are struggling,” he continued.

Many regular and temporary employees are at the risk of losing their jobs as the administration decided to shut down the cattle farms.

“This is not an isolated incident. The Administrator had terminated atleast 1000 people from various sectors so far. Atleast 190 contract employees got fired from tourist department. Atleast 400 people working under District Panchayat got fired. The contract employees in agriculture and harbour sector were also terminated without proper explanation,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader in island, Lukhmanul Hakeem told Maktoob.

Due to the strict COVID-19 contained lockdown rules, people in Lakshadweep are marking their dissent against the administration’s decision virtually. The hashtag #BoycottAmul got trending in social media after the netizens joined in solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep.

As the entry of Amul into the Lakshadweep market can eventually weaken the local dairy farmers, the small-scale farmers expressed their trust in the residents of the island.

“I know my people. They will not depend on adulterated milk products. They prefer fresh milk straight from cow’s udder. They never mind paying more,” Najmuddin shared his hope.

Ashfaque EJ is an independent journalist.