With the creation of the new Ministry to look after the cooperative sector, Sharad Pawar is already feeling the heat. The 80-year-old leader met with Prime Minister Modi to discuss the banking sector, and one can easily guess that his primary concern was cooperative banking.
The Modi government created a new ministry out of what was a minor department in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Union Home Minister is in charge of this new ministry – the Ministry of Cooperatives.
“This meeting was due for many days and a time was found today (Saturday). A leader from Maharashtra meeting the Prime Minister has nothing to do with anything else… We expect that the PM will consider all requests of the banking sector,” NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik said.
Sharad Pawar has been the uncrowned king of the cooperatives sector as he has built his politics around cooperative banks and cooperative sugar mills. More than 150 MLAs from Maharashtra have some kind of direct or indirect connection with the cooperative sector, and Sharad Pawar sits at the top of this empire.
In the last five decades, many leaders have tried to weaken Sharad Pawar and have succeeded to some extent, but no one could destroy his politico-business empire given his control over cooperatives. Sharad Pawar knows very well that as long as he has control over cooperatives, his politics and business empire would flourish.
However, with the recent reforms, the Modi government is trying to destroy the stranglehold of the politicians from the cooperatives and also trying to clean up the sector that has been an avenue for politicians to generate ample amount of black money and hold sway over the constituents of the area.
First, cooperative banking was cleaned up by the Modi government by giving its direct control to the Reserve Bank of India, which has barred the involvement of people with even remote political connections in running these banks.
And now the other institutions of the cooperative sector like cooperative housing society, cooperative sugar mills would also be cleaned up slowly and for this purpose, the new Ministry of Cooperatives has been created.
A few years ago, Ajit Pawar faced corruption allegations in the alleged Rs. 25,000-crore Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank Ltd. scam along with the NCP Founder-President, Sharad Pawar, following which Ajit Pawar had resigned from the Baramati assembly seat. And the investigation agencies including Enforcement Directorate have stepped up the investigation in that case.
When the Union government brought the cooperative banks under the RBI, Sharad Pawar was the most vocal critic of it, and he is coming strongly against the creation of cooperatives ministry too.
The Pawar family is the best example of how politicians use public offices to reap economic dividends. Sharad Pawar built the political and business empire by influencing agriculture and related industries through policy manipulation. The cooperative banks, sugar mills, agriculture market produce committee (APMC) were the instruments for Sharad Pawar to build the power base of the politics of the state.
With the complete control of banks going in hands of RBI and the Union government, the politicians fear losing out on easy money that these banks churned for them consistently and this may be the reason that Pawar is trying to woo PM Modi to go soft on the cooperatives sector. However, given PM’s style of functioning, this is hardly going to have any effect on the Union government’s resolution to clean up the sector.