Verghese Kurien deserves the Bharat Ratna

Dr Verghese Kurien, Chairman, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (AMUL) stands pretty  is the pioneer of white revolution in India

Dr Verghese Kurien, Chairman, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (AMUL) stands pretty is the pioneer of white revolution in India

Verghese Kurien, the nation's doodhwala deserved the Bharat Ratna more than anyone else. His story ran parallel with India's.

Like Pandit Nehru, he invested in the idea and ideal of India. That India is self sufficient in milk production and dairy products is primarily because of Kurien's initiative and intent.

Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, but alas no Bharat Ratna. Interestingly, the architect of the green revolution was given the Bharat Ratna, but the man who single handedly helmed the white revolution did not get it.

Frontline magazine reported in 1998 that C. Subramaniam had the uncanny ability to spot talent and entrust the right people with the right responsibility.

It stated, 'Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who played a major role in translating the dream of a 'green revolution' into reality, former Agriculture Secretary B. Sivaraman (who, along with Subramaniam and Swaminathan, formed the three 'S's instrumental in heralding the Green Revolution), and Dr. V. Kurien, Chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), who ushered in the White Revolution, were hand-picked by Subramaniam.

That all these men distinguished themselves in their fields and became institutions in themselves is history.' Yes, Kurien was a man of substance, an institution builder.

In 1997, I was commissioned to do a half hour show on Kurien and how he had set about ushering in the milk revolution.

I travelled to Anand and met and shot with Dr Kurien for a week. He was a fabulous raconteur, telling stories about how he began his life in Anand in a tin shed, how the name Amul came about, how Alexei Kosygin was enamoured of his work and so many more interesting nuggets.

In the formative years, when he was looking for a name for what was an ever burgeoning operation, he touched base with all the farmers in an open house.

Someone said their movement was amulya (priceless), which was rapidly abbreviated to Amul to break down as Anand Milk Union Ltd. Kurien's master class was that he realised quickly that collectivism was the way forward, but in order to achieve the goal, it was imperative that disintermediation take place at ground zero.

By removing the middle man and empowering the farmers and their wives, he set about aggregating what turned out to be enormous milk assets. From disparate sources, he formed what has arguably become one of the most successful management case studies of cooperativism.

By enlarging the scope of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation to a nationwide programme through National Dairy Development Board's Operation Flood, Kurien single handedly turned India into the world's largest milk producer.

Kurien was his own man, he did not know defeat, nor did he ever retreat. Always courting controversy, he spoke his mind freely and perhaps because of this idiosyncratic behaviour never managed to endear himself to the political class.

Dr Verghese Kurien believed that India could be self-reliant and self-sufficient in milk and milk products

Dr Verghese Kurien believed that India could be self-reliant and self-sufficient in milk and milk products

A blatant swadeshi at heart, he had not time for Multinational Corporations, he believed that India could be self sufficient and self reliant in milk and milk products. His nervous energy and unending reservoir of zeal to make Anand, Gujarat and India the first among equals was overwhelming.

As a leader of a mass apolitical movement, he was modest and yet arrogant at the same time.

Modest for his personal achievements and arrogant at what his movement had managed to achieve. Guided at different times by Tribhuvandas Patel, Pandit Nehru and Shastriji, Kurien, the grand old man of Start Ups would always describe himself as a milkman and a servant of the people who he served. As Kurien famously recounted, when Shastriji wanted him to take the milk initiative national, he refused to go to Delhi, saying that he would like to stay amongst his farm brethren and not amongst bureaucrats.

At the core of Kurien's brilliant enterprise was a vet, a milk technician and a fodder specialist. Between this troika, the value of cross breeding was thrown into stark relief.

GCMMF known through the Amul brand name is a Rs 11,500 crore enterprise. When Shyam Benegal decided to document the Amul story for posterity, Kurien collected funds from the same farmers on whom the movie was being made.

The film Manthan was part of the cooperative funded by the cooperative and for the cooperative. In fact, Kurien even bankrolled the latter part of Sardar.

Towards the end, Kurien was a trifle embittered, his jousts with protégé Amrita Patel and other cooperative bosses who were also board members led to his unceremonious ouster from both GCMMF and NDDB.

Kurien could have been retained in both institutions that he built so assiduously as chairman emeritus, he could have been given the Bharat Ratna while he was alive.

The journey from Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union which transformed into GCMMF and Amul was long and arduous. Kurien was particularly unhappy with the fact that his two children - Mother Dairy and Amul -were going head to head in the market place, he had wanted synergy, not competition.

Iconic and always driven by the need to excel as an Indian, he unleashed Operation Flood in three distinct phases - 1970-80, 1981-85 and 1985 to 1996.

Since he was so driven and unrelenting in his ways, there was talk of his despotic ways towards the end. As with GCMMF and NDDB, the third institution he seeded - IRMA - also saw a power struggle.

His manthan and yearning for continuous excellence has created a mothership enterprise which involves 16,117 villages and 13 million litres of milk daily.

During the dark days when he battled to stay ensconced at the three institutions that he built, I kept in touch with Dr Kurien, tracking his enigmatic ways to stay ahead of the milk curve.

His invective against those who had turned against him was always laced with sardonic wit and biblical lingua franca. We will always remember you, Dr Kurien, hope the Government does too and awards you with the Bharat Ratna for all that you helped the country achieve.


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