It is not given to everyone to change one aspect of a whole country. Verghese Kurien himself seems not to have been aware of his destiny, one that he would build with his extraordinary blend of vision, grit, endurance, intelligence, enterprise, management and belief in technology and excellence when he was about to walk away after managing a near-defunct creamery in Anand, Gujarat in 1948. He had been posted there to fulfil the conditions of his scholarship to the United States of America, from where he had just returned as a metallurgical engineer. Dairy engineering had been a minor subject. So there is almost a legendary quality to the history of his having stayed back for another six months to manage a nascent cooperative of dairy farmers that Tribhuvandas Patel had formed so that the farmers could command the right prices. Those six months virtually became Kurien’s whole life, as he gradually changed a milk-deficient country into the world’s leading producer of milk, bigger than countries such as the Netherlands, and that, too, by founding the nation’s highly successful cooperative movement in dairy farming.
The Anand Milk Union Limited that Kurien joined in 1949, not too enthusiastically at first, to help dairy farmers break the stranglehold of the multinational Polson, is today’s Amul, recognized for quality and sheer brand value all over the world. It has retained its identity in spite of the growth of the much larger Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. Kurien’s brilliance, in deciding to use buffalo instead of cow’s milk for milk powder for example, his unbending resistance to politicization through different political regimes, his refusal to dilute either the principles of the organizations he chaired, the National Dairy Development Board among them, or the quality of the products these produced, including the managers of rural technologies graduating from the Institute of Rural Management he founded, his drive and dynamism, all add up to the sense India has had of witnessing a transformative vision in action. Kurien is an example of what a person can do if they put their mind to it. It was a big mind too, that once engaged, also developed its unique genius to become the father of India’s ‘white revolution’. With his passing, for the first time since her appearance in 1964, the Amul Girl is weeping.