Verghese Kurien: An Ode to Father of the White Revolution, India

Credit: Google, Google acknowledges the Milkman of India on his birth anniversary

Verghese Kurien (1921-2012) is considered the Father of the White Revolution in India. He is also known as the ‘Milkman of India’. He was responsible for moving India from a milk powder importing country to becoming self-sufficient in milk and milk products. He is credited with creating a series of institutions in Anand, a small town in the Western state of Gujarat, the AMUL Brand of milk products and its cooperative milk federation (GCMMF), the National Dairy Development Board to name a few. The Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) was one of the last institutions he built.

I joined IRMA in 2009 as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Chair Professor in Economics and became the Director of IRMA in 2011 for a full term till 2016. I met Dr. Verghese Kurien a couple of times during these years. However, he passed away in 2012 leaving behind a huge legacy of institutions. He had an aura about him and anyone who came into contact with him or worked with him was left in awe. When I met him he was old and partially losing his memory. But in the few hours I spent with him he never forgot that I came from IRMA and had a series of tales to tell and also convey his hopes for the institution in very clear terms.

In today’s terminology he is considered a social entrepreneur whose ‘billion litre idea’, officially ‘Operation Flood’, created the world’s largest dairy industry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verghese_Kurien Fortunately for us and for the youth of today he narrated his biography ‘I too had a Dream’ to Gouri Salvi (Kurien, 2005). I read this book, it was mandatory, when I joined IRMA. In this post I narrate what struck me most about the life and work of this incredible man.

‘I too had a Dream’ Biography of Dr. Verghese Kurien

What strikes you most is the determination of the man. Once he decided what he had to do, nothing could stop him. It requires this kind of determination and fearlessness to create the kind of mass movement he created in the dairy revolution of India. Not to fear authority, bureaucracy and all the efforts that go with it to put obstacles in your path. He was a man of integrity and I heard him and his colleagues repeat that N number of times during my stay at IRMA. His standard response to the ‘what three things to expect from a management professional or employee? Integrity, Integrity and Integrity.

AMUL, Anand Milk Union Limited, was the brand name registered in 1957 for the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Union Limited (Kurien, 2005: 55), registered as a society in 1946. Tribhuvandas Patel, a Gandhian social worker, Dr. Verghese Kurien and H.M. Dalaya, a dairy engineer, were considered the ‘triumvirate’ of the Kaira Cooperative (Kurien, 2005: 37). Each with his special skills propelled the milk cooperative movement forward. Dr. Kurien described himself as an employee of the farmers and never took a salary from the government even though he was offered it many times.

What was meant by a ‘Farmer’s Man’ I discovered personally when he died on 9th September 2012. I went to his home where his body was kept. Only his wife Molly, daughter Nirmala and the GCMMF MD R.S. Sodhi and few others were present. Out of politeness and not knowing what to say, I asked where and when he would be buried as he came from a Christian household of Kerala. His daughter told me that he was an atheist and did not wish to be buried or for any rituals to be conducted after his demise. I was shocked. What an incredible man, he upheld his principles till the end.

His body was kept for public viewing in a large hall in the AMUL factory premises. And what a sight! Farmers and people from the nearby villages and towns poured in. All roads, buses and trains towards Anand were filled with people with no barriers of gender, class, caste, or creed. They poured in through the gates of AMUL and were everywhere on the premises. They lined up to see their ‘Farmer’s Man’ for the last time. The true impact of what he had done and what he meant to the village people struck me then.

Verghese Kurien was able to get every top political leader of independent India to Anand to inaugurate or witness the miracle he had created. The list begins with the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, the first Prime Minster of India, Jawaharlal Nehru with his daughter, Indira Gandhi, a future Prime Minster of India, and the second Prime Minister of India, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri came to Anand to witness the Anand cooperative system. Officially he came to Anand in 1964 to inaugurate the Cattle Feed Compounding Plant, but he expressed a wish to spend the night in a village in the house of a farmer. He spent the night speaking to farmers as he wished to figure out how Anand cooperative was successful, while the government dairies in his home state of Uttar Pradesh were not. He did not find the answer and sought an explanation from Kurien, who replied: ‘The solitary difference was that Amul dairy was owned by the farmers themselves’ (Kurien, 2005: 99). He firmly believed in the cooperative principle of shareholding by the farmers with one share one vote. This is a true democratic form of governance. The Prime Minister requested Kurien to replicate the Anand AMUL model in other states of India. This was the beginning of the National Dairy Development Board.

An interesting video by http://www.wildfilmsindia.com of Dr. Verghese Kurien’s description of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s visit appeared recently on Linkedin shared by Nitin Puri. I share the video here, it tells a fascinating story of the Prime Minister’s visit and the seeds sown for the creation of the National Dairy Development Board. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0PGkL0T1-c

I recommend that students and teachers alike should read the book ‘I too had a Dream’. It is an inspiration to discover your own interest and follow it doggedly with integrity come what may.

3 thoughts on “Verghese Kurien: An Ode to Father of the White Revolution, India

  1. A wonderful blog on “Farmer’s Man.” If there is anyone fit to receive Bharat Ratna it is him. He made India the largest milk producer in the World in partnership with millions of farmers. I had a chance to meet him once in 1999 along with ADB Board members. He was brutally frank with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written Jeemol. What a MAN. You just respect him, with a lot of reverence. A small correction. He3 was not a social entrepreneur. Tribhuvan Das Patel was. Kurien was and will be remembered as the greatest Social Intrapreneur.

    Like

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