Q1.Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you joined the cooperative movement?

I started my cooperative journey in the 1980s as a member of a village-level primary society called Sadhan Sahkari Samiti. Being farmers and members, our family would often take benefits and services from the society like fertilisers and pesticides. I would work in fields and reap the collective benefit of being a cooperative society member. I gained interest in the movement and decided to immerse myself in it.

My first elected position was as Director of the village level society. After that, I became the Director of a district cooperative bank and got representation at the state cooperative bank in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. I worked as the Director of the Uttar Pradesh Cooperative Marketing Federation and later served as its Chairman from 1994 to 1999. Simultaneously, I got involved with the IFFCO, KRIBHCO, and the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED). I was the Director of NAFED until 1996. I was elected as the Vice-Chairman of KRIBHCO from 1996 to 1999, and Chairman from 1999 to 2010. After a gap of five years, I was re-elected as Chairman of KRIBHCO in 2015 and 2020. During this period, I was also a governing council member of NCUI and was elected as the Chairman from 2010 to 2020.

Q2.How did you get involved in ICA-AP?

My involvement with ICA-AP started when I was the Chairman of NCUI in 2010. I contested for the ICA-AP Regional Board elections and the position of Vice President in 2012 and 2016 and won both times. After having served on the board of ICA-AP for almost 11 years, I decided to contest for the post of President at the recent elections held in November 2021 in Seoul, the Republic of Korea. Thanks to the support of members from the region, I won with a comfortable majority! I am very grateful for the confidence they have shown in me!

Q3. How has the movement changed since you first joined it? please share any 1-2 specific examples of how the movement has changed for good or bad.

The significant step to strengthen the Indian cooperative movement was brought in by the 97th Constitutional Amendment Act in 2002. The amendment brought in the democratic nature of cooperatives, led to timely elections, proper maintenance of records, and an increase in awareness among the masses for cooperatives. People’s view of the cooperatives started to change for good. Those who used to think that cooperatives only reached limited people, and not every individual benefited as there was corruption, started to see that cooperatives can play an important role in improving farmers’ productivity and them getting good rates for their produce. Their faith was restored.

The 97th constitutional amendment bestowed the formation of cooperatives as a fundamental right. A lot of people started to join cooperatives, as a result, we now have more than 8 lakh cooperatives with 32 crore cooperators. We now have a large network of cooperative banks facilitating access to credit across the country. The cooperative marketing federations have expanded; they are now competing with MNCs and producing an array of products. Some examples are Amul dairy products, KRIBHCO and NAFED’s agriculture products, chocolates by CAMCO coop in Karnataka, and products of rubber cooperatives in Kerala.

For cooperatives to succeed, government support is needed from time to time while ensuring their independence and autonomy. If governments support the movement without much interference, then cooperatives can flourish. For example, when cooperatives registered under the Multi-state Cooperative Society Act, they got more independence and autonomy, which in turn helped in their expansion and growth. When cooperatives can independently decide on their matters, the process becomes quicker.

I have seen the cooperative movement only improving and growing. Now, there is a need to focus on training as we have educated members in cooperatives. If we talk about competing with MNCs in production, then we should also be competing with them in the management style.

Q4. Do you see any differences or similarities between the Indian cooperative movement and that of other nations?

With 8 lakh cooperatives and 32 crore cooperators, India’s movement is the biggest in Asia. Democracy and transparency are strong features of the movement with cooperative values and principles being diligently followed. One major difference that I see in many countries is that cooperatives are still running with government support and with that, I feel comes interference. My experience so far is mainly with the Indian movement. Through ICA’s platform, I will learn more about cooperatives in other countries. We will try to facilitate a good exchange of cooperative best practices, learn from countries with strong movements like Australia, China, Korea, and Japan, and share knowledge from our country.

The way we have nurtured the Indian cooperative movement, similarly, we will work for the growth of cooperatives in the Asia and Pacific region. In many countries, people are not even aware of cooperatives, we aim to fulfil that gap and create awareness among the masses. If we present the examples of countries like China and Japan with strong cooperatives movements, people will be attracted towards cooperatives. We will develop the cooperative movement in those countries either through government schemes, or link people with cooperatives and provide them with employment opportunities.The more people join cooperatives, the better the membership will be in the region. We will target to reach every country in the region through cooperatives.

Q5. From the president of a village cooperative to now the President of ICA-AP, you have had an incredible journey, what kind of challenges have you seen and how did you overcome those?

The cooperative movement has faced a lot of challenges and it is the responsibility of the cooperative leaders and directors to fight those challenges.
As I said, with government support, fighting challenges becomes much easier. Currently, cooperatives face a heavy tax burden which shouldn’t be the case. Cooperatives work for the marginalised and weaker sections of the society, small and marginal farmers, small businessmen, which is also part of the Government’s agenda. If cooperatives get tax exemptions considering their services, then they will be able to work better and can solve people’s problems.
In India, cooperatives are state subjects. We know that there are different governments in different states and the treatment of cooperatives across the states is not the same. In states where government interference is more, cooperatives have taken a step backwards and it created difficulties for the movement to grow.
There is a need for proper training and education in cooperatives. Every person associated with a cooperative should be well versed with its values and principles so that they are better able to serve and run cooperatives.
If we, cooperators, work together and spread the same values among people, we will be able to implement the people’s businesses and solve the socio-economic problems of our countries. Wherever people don’t cooperate, problems arise, so we should rise above politics, language, class, and gender issues.

Q5. What will be your priorities as President of ICA- AP?

For an inclusive and equitable international cooperation among cooperatives in the Asia and Pacific region, we have prepared a 10-point programme and will start working towards the same. This includes:

  • Working closely with fellow cooperatives and the national governments to create an enabling legal and policy framework to uphold the democratic and autonomous character of the cooperative institutions.
  • Strategizing to strengthen and rebuild cooperatives in the region post the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Strengthening the resources and network of ICA-AP to achieve the goals of gender equality, women empowerment and socio-economic equality in the region.
  • Strengthening the capacity of youth through focused cooperative programs at educational and business institutions.
  • Furthering the cooperative agendas including Climate Action at international fora like UN, G20, ASEAN, SAARC, etc.
  • Focusing on data collection and research to create a roadmap for innovation and sustainable initiatives.
  • Promoting C2C trade in the region.
  • Expanding member base in ICA-AP Network with special focus on the Middle East, Central Asia and the Pacific.
  • Reaching out to all members to understand their requirements and formulate a need-based strategy and action plan to address the gaps.
  • Promoting skill-based training programs for better income generation of coop members and sharing best practices across countries.

Q7. You mentioned women and youth inclusion, how do you see them in the leadership and not just passively participating?

India has around 50% women population, but we don’t see that in cooperatives! Why? What have we done to make women part of the cooperative movement? We should educate them about cooperatives through various training programs and make them aware of the benefits and services, then only they will join the movement.

If we can provide women employment through cooperatives, make credit available through cooperative banks and have cooperative marketing federations support them, they will be happy to join the movement. The primary need is to bring women into the movement, provide equal opportunities, and give them leadership roles.

The same is with youth who often are more attracted to the corporate sector which provides them with large pay packages. They don’t realise that by starting a cooperative, they can be job creators and can employ multiple people. The opportunities to show one’s true potential is limited in an MNC but starting one’s cooperative gives ample opportunities to learn and grow, serve the marginalised, and work for the development of their communities and country.

We will work in this direction by bringing changes in the education curriculum of primary and high schools to incorporate cooperative education. When we will teach them about cooperative structures, principles and values right from the beginning, they will find cooperatives as an equally interesting career option. If well-educated youth join the movement, they will help the movement grow and we can utilise the power of the young.

We need to pay attention to the needs of youth and women, make them aware, train them, and provide them opportunities. Once they are well-versed with the fundamentals of cooperatives, we need to elect them into leadership roles. The movement will only get benefitted from the new and young ideologies. They can bring with them varied perspectives, new technologies, marketing strategies, and help cooperatives compete at the national and global levels.
Women and youth in leadership positions can be of huge significance, the movement will turn young and get to experience varied management styles.