When Dr Verghese Kurien died on Sunday, September 9 after a brief illness he was 90 and is survived by his wife and daughter. But his contribution to Gujarat and India is immense. Known as ‘The Milk Man of India’ he is the father of the ‘White Revolution’ which by eliminating the middleman, steeply raised the standard of the lives of farmers in Gujarat who revered him like a God.
This writer visited Anand in the early 1980s to do a story on the ‘White Revolution’ and found him loquacious with a fund of anecdotes. He was cremated in Anand according to his wish, the place he made his home for over three decades.
Funny that a Malayalee from Kozhikode should spend a lifetime in Gujarat, although he openly admits that the same would not happen in reverse.
“Yet I am aware that without Tribhuvandas Patel,” he says in his autobiography I Too Had a Dream, the title an obvious take off on American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s celebrated quote.
After graduating in Mechanical Engineering from Madras University and later doing his post-graduate degree in Michigan State University he received specialized training at the National Research Institute in Bangalore before being asked to set up the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation as the instance of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, (one of the most unsung leaders of the Country) whose untimely death in Tashkent deprived the nation of years of prosperity.
But the ‘White Revolution’ surely stands tribute to his great foresight and it had to take a committed pioneer with missionary zeal like Dr Kurien to put it across. Beginning in 1949, he built the milk co-operative of Kaira which is a Rs 10,000 crore establishment.
When Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri asked him to head the National Dairy & Development Board (NDDB) in New Delhi he flatly refused. “There are no farmers in Delhi. So why should I go there. I’ll continue to stay put here and whatever has to be started will start from Anand,” he said and his wish was duly granted by a man who recognized his worth. As Chairman of the NDDB Kurien drew a token salary of Re 1 a month.
One had only to see little girls, below 12 years, come to the milk centres late in the evenings to test the strength of the liquid with not a care in the world. The little town gradually developed, to come up on the map of the world as one of the greatest co-operative efforts ever.
Eliminating the middleman was no easy task and Kurien told us that night, how a Haryana middleman very nearly had him thrown out of a running train. But Kurien could also be as hard as nails and took no nonsense from anyone, except the farmer.
When filmmaker Shyam Benegal wanted to make the feature film Manthan and asked Kurien for funds, he asked each farmer to contribute a princely sum of Rs 2 each and raised Rs 10 lakhs. And thus thousands of farmers became overnight producers of Manthan. Kurien clearly showed that the only hope for this Country is the co-operative movement. If only others could emulate what has come to be known as the ‘Anand model’ it could virtually spell prosperity to any area it is attempted. But for that one needs competence, hard work and unmitigated integrity.