Dr. Verghese Kurien, the father of the White Revolution became a legend in his lifetime for building a cooperative movement that transformed the lives of poor farmers while making India self-reliant in milk production. His autobiographical book I too had a Dream as told to Gauri Salvi shows one can really do things even in India beyond criticism if one is driven by purpose, integrity, and indefatigable industry. In a career that spanned close to six decades, Kurien not only changed the lives of millions of farmers and consumers but also established some of India’s best institutions and brands like the Institute of Rural Management at Anand.
He is the doyen of the dairy cooperative movement. Better known as the ‘Milkman of India’, Kurien heralded the nation’s White Revolution, emulated by many countries across the world. Kurien’s ‘White Revolution’ gave India the identity of being the largest producer of milk in the world.
Dr. Verghese Kurien, popularly known as the ‘architect of White Revolution’, recounts, with customary candor, the story of his life and how he shaped the dairy industry in his book which is the precious lifeblood of his meticulous endeavors. This helps the readers in comprehending the magnitude of his contributions as well as his multifaceted personality. Dr. Kurien’s life tells the saga of a man who almost singlehandedly changed the fortunes of millions of dairy farmers around the nation. The word ‘impossible’ did not exist for Dr.Kurien — he was the first dairyman to produce milk powder from buffalo milk. In 1965 he became the Chairman of NDDB which was formed to replicate AMUL’s success nationally. From 1970 onwards, Dr. Kurien spearheaded the Operation Flood Movement throughout the country.
Operation Flood launched in 1970 as a project of the National Dairy Development Board is an important landmark in the journey of billion litre milk production. Its aim was the replication of the ‘AMUL’ or the Anand pattern of cooperatives all over the country. This resulted in the formation of a national institution National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) that became the torch-bearer of India’s white revolution for the next two decades. NDDB’s sole mandate was to replicate the Anand pattern of cooperatives all over the country. In Dr. Kurien’s words, “It was the mid-60s when I got a call from senior Gujarat cadre IPS officer informing me that union Home Secretary I.P. Singh was in Gujarat and wanted to take a look at the co-operative milk model at Anand. Singh was very impressed when he visited Anand and saw the impact of the movement. He asked me why this model, which had created a win-win situation for both the farmers and consumers, couldn’t be replicated at the national level. I told him that my proposal titled ‘Operation Flood’ was facing bureaucratic hurdles and the officials of the Union Agriculture ministry were not interested in it. Singh was surprised and he promised to put everything in order. At a meeting in Delhi, I explained to officials how the scheme aimed at recovering its initial cost by asking European countries to donate excess powdered milk and butter oil, which they otherwise disposed of as waste, to us. I also informed them that seeking aid for the project was a short- term arrangement aimed at a self-sufficient and farmer-friendly model for India. In other words, once the model was fully operational, financial aid for the project was to end.” And thanks to Singh’s efforts, the project not only took off but started moving at a fast pace. And what AMUL did to Gujarat in the 1950s and the 1960s, the NDDB, in implementing Operation Flood, did to the entire country in the next thirty years. The AMUL and the NDDB experiment is an outstanding innovation of modern times. Dr. Kurien and his team zealously protected the institutional autonomy of NDDB by deliberately keeping it away from the plethora of Bhavans and departments of power-hungry Delhi, locating it at Anand, a remote corner of the country. It was a living laboratory that offered many lessons not just for Gujarat but for the country and NDDB amplified the voice of the Anand pattern of cooperatives.
Thanks to Dr. Kurien, an entire ecosystem grew around milk and milk capital. It was not just the cooperatives and milk processing infrastructure but a host of other institutions were conceived, thanks to the positive spin-offs. A brand that became the darling of the nation AMUL proved to the world that shared prosperity is possible. The cooperatives were owned by the farmer-milk producers and managed by professionals that were accountable to them. The surplus at the end of the business transactions was distributed to producers in addition to the remunerative prices that they received for the milk-produce. The AMUL model also demonstrated that farmer-friendly structures need not be against consumer interests. While it rewarded farmers with handsome procurement prices that encouraged higher fat percentage quality milk (unadulterated); the urban consumer had access to fresh milk round the year. The AMUL pattern cooperatives produced butter, ghee, paneer, milk powder, ice-cream, chocolates, and even traditional sweets like rosgulla and shrikhand. All this was achieved not merely by mass production, but by production by the masses.
One of the most significant achievements of Dr. Kurien was the empowerment of the rural women by connecting them with the cooperative movement. This is clearly brought out by his saying “I have often claimed that I have had but one good idea in my life: that true development is the development of women and men”. He holds the view that when we work merely for our own profit, the pleasure is transitory; but if we work for others, there is a deeper sense of fulfillment and if things are handled well, the money too, is more than adequate. Dr. Kurien had a high regard for the Indian farmer. He abhorred thinking of farmers as poor, helpless, in need of doles. He always lauded their wisdom and native genius and was derisive about antipoverty programmes, which he thought treated farmers as supplicants. He loved their rusticity and simplicity and despite a language barrier bonded instantly with pro-farmer leaders like Tribhuvandas Patel, Devi Lal, Balram Jakhar, Paramasivam, and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Tribhuvandas Patel remained Kurien’s guiding spirit until his last days. Along his way, Dr. Kurien picked up several national and international accolades. While Ramon Magsaysay Award came way back in 1963, he was bestowed Padmashri in 1964 followed by Padma Bhushan in 1966. His sheer perseverance, indomitable intelligence, and immense belief in himself enabled him to attain Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award of the country in 1999. Kurien was also the man behind the creation and success of ‘AMUL’ which deals with a multitude of dairy products. “I am not an employee of the government, I am an employee of the farmers,” Dr. Kurien says repeatedly. His vision of a country owned and controlled by the people is a compelling one. His admiration is clearly revealed by the cover of this book which unlike other memoirs is not an ingratiating photograph of the author but an artistic wallpaper montage of Indian cattle. For all his impressive accomplishments, however, for the common man, Kurien will forever remain the man behind the impish AMUL girl promoting with her “utterly, butterly” smile the Taste of India. He was the harbinger of true revolution in the lives of farmers. His words “I chose to remain in Anand, as an employee of farmers, all my life. It was the wisest decision I have ever taken” unveils his real admiration for the farmers.
“Eight hours for dairy, eight hours for family and eight hours for sleep” policy made Dr. Verghese Kurien the doyen of White Revolution. Sacrifice is needed for any kind of development. Dr. Verghese Kurien has shown his model of development which can be imitated for the betterment of our lives. He envisions a better world through better people. Hence no age and custom can stale the infinite variety made immortal by Dr. Kurien.