Amul and Dr. Verghese Kurien (Milkman of India)

Amul has instant recall in our minds – images of the cute Amul moppet girl, their priceless topical ads, Amul butter, Amul milk, Taste of India, all come instantly to our notice. We don’t quite realize the story within which would have images of – Dr. Verghese Kurien, White Revolution, Operation Flood, NDDB, GCMMF, milk co-operative movement, milk movie Manthan, etc.

The book (I too had a dream) is less of an autobiography – fleeting personal details are mentioned – but it is a great narrative of India’s milk revolution. From a country struggling with milk production and per capita consumption, a great journey has been covered wherein we are now the second largest milk producers in the world and have significantly improved on consumption per capita as well.

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Dr. Kurien has set the narrative but it has been scribed by Ms. Gouri Salvi. It provides great insight into India’s journey from by a milk deficient country to becoming a leading milk producer. The book spans Dr. Kurien’s journey from 1950 to 2005. It is dramatic enough – a reluctant Kurien ended up being posted to Anand in Gujarat by the Government of India, who had sponsored his higher education in Michigan in the field of ‘Dairy Engineering’, and spend the initial months trying to resign from his job and move to greener pastures like Bombay.

However he was soon drawn into the Milk movement and spent the rest of his life in Anand living out his dream of ensuring that India was self-sufficient in milk production and the per capita consumption figures improved significantly as well. Kurien has a profile of a technocrat but it is a welcome change that he doesn’t mind to get his hands dirty to do the job.

He was nurtured by the political patronage of Tribhovandas Patel and found technical support from Dalaya (revolutionizing technique of making milk powder from Buffalo’s milk instead of Cow’s milk) and Michael Halse (conceptualizing Operation Flood). Over a period of time he developed his own political acumen and found suitable ways and means to handle his biggest bugbear – bureaucrats and their babudom.

Dr. Kurien eventually developed what became popular as the  ‘Anand’ model of milk management. At the heart of it lay the co-operative movement and ensuring that the producer got his dues for the goods. Under the over-arching principle, Kurien was modern enough to employ the standard tricks of the trade including cost efficiency, upgrading technology, investing in quality improvement initiatives and finally using Marketing & Branding to effectively reach the end consumer. It’s a unique combination that served to establish Amul as a leading brand and indeed most of us are aware of it more as a corporate and only have a vague inkling of the co-operative movement that backs it.

Kurien narrates some interesting stories from his journey – rivalry with Polson Dairy in the initial days, the making of Manthan movie that was a co-operative venture in itself as each farmer contributed to finance the film’s production, launch of Amul’s first milk powder plant in record time, the journey behind the launch of Operation Flood, the story behind launch of IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, Anand) etc. These are rare insights not easily available in public domain, so the book provides a great opportunity to learn the ‘inside story’ on many things in a convenient manner.

Kurien’s co-operative philosophy should be extended to other countries as well as other products (Oil, Salt, agriculture) but it turns out to be a mixed bag for nothing quite emulates that enduring success of the milk revolution and ‘Amul’ the brand fronting it. Kurien provides his own insights on why it didn’t quite work in many situations – an interesting application he had proposed was using it for ensuring profitable distribution of Electricity in Gujarat.

In fact successful co-operatives don’t easily come to our mind as success stories. A few that I remember instantly are Lijjat Papad and the famous Mumbai Dabbawala. Guess there is no easy and sure shot formula for lasting success – many factors impact a lot of genuine projects that don’t quite reach the required critical mass.

The book serves as an insight into Kurien’s personality as well – he has been open enough to admit to a few flaws including the perception of being autocratic in his functioning. This keeps our vision of him grounded and leads us to admire him for a lifelong commitment to a cause that was paramount to everything else in his life. He really stayed away from chasing greener pastures for himself and had an interesting take on the role of money in our lives –

“It is terrible to have too little money because you will not even have enough to eat and appease your hunger. But it is far, far worse to have too much money because then you will surely get corrupt”.

Quite an insight from a leader who drew a maximum salary of INR 5000 /- as the Chairman and General Manager of GCMMF in 1981. To answer any doubting Thomas let me assure you that the Cost Indexed figure today would have around INR 51000 /-, certainly not a princely sum by any standards.

So don’t take the Amul story for granted – delve into this book for details and to know about ‘Milkman of India’- Dr. Verghese Kurien.

Credit: Bloomberg Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: Bloomberg
Courtesy: Getty Images

6 Replies to “Amul and Dr. Verghese Kurien (Milkman of India)”

  1. And I hope you have seen the movie based on the movement that was produced by 500000 co-operative member farmers contributing Rs. 2 /- each i.e. Manthan. It depicts the struggles of the movement before it took root – middlemen who were competitors & milk aggregators and old feudal structures caused the maximum trouble, but they finally were churned out to unleash the ‘White revolution’ in the country.


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