In the very beginning of his memoir, I Too Had a Dream, Dr Verghese Kurien, has said: “I think I can take pride in the fact that my mission is, by and large, accomplished”. As one goes through the pages of his memoir, one can feel the excitement, challenges, sacrifices and risks of Kurien’s accomplished life. Kurien’s unflinching concern and care for farmers and deep and meaningful patriotism are oozed in his every single act, which he has so engagingly shared in nearly 230 pages. Kurien’s memoir is a story of people (especially farmers and professionals), institutions (body and soul), technology intertwined with each other guided by uncompromising vision and values. True to his faith in institutions and continuity based on vision and values, his memoir starts with a letter which he wrote to his grandson. His letter is actually addressed to the millions of young Indians with a wish to inspire them to, in his words, “work tirelessly in their chosen field for the larger good of the country, for the larger good of humanity”.
Today, when we see rural India, that is more than half of our country’s population, in such deep distress, to the extent that thousands of farmers have committed suicide in last few years, Dr Kurien’s memoir reminds us what possibly can be done. In his own words, “when the tools of development are placed in the hands of our rural people, and when their energy and wisdom is linked with the skill of committed professionals, there is nothing they cannot achieve”. He has not minced words in sharing his doubts and criticism about the intentions and means of the government bureaucracies and multinationals alike. He has categorically stated his belief that when government enters a business, the citizens of India are cheated. For bureaucracy, he has said that it exists for its own-self – for power, control and money. He has used no lesser harsh words for the ‘MNCs’, which, he believed never play by the rules in somebody else’s country. He has said it emphatically, “I take great pride in stating that it is we – our farmers and their cooperatives – who disciplined foreign capital in dairy products in this country”. Therefore, today, when farmers and agricultural labourers have been squeezed economically through government policies and vested interests, and have been displaced from the national imagination, Kurien, the employee of farmers, stands as an example for all of us to follow in vision, values, thoughts and actions.
The cooperative movement run by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), an institution, conceptualized and built by Kurien without any direct aid from the government, and lead by himself for more than three decades is a true revolution and has rightly been recognized as the largest development program which more than doubled the income of marginal and small farmers. Kurien has written about the monumental challenges which he faced and in every challenge how he discovered an opportunity. He has also expressed his gratitude to the people to whom it is due.
Through the pages of his book, he comes out as a man who carried an enormous courage and conviction in his heart. His book has many lessons for professionals, leaders, and normal citizens. Here is a man who accidentally ended up in Anand, which in his words was dull, sleepy, unexciting, and conservative, and turned it into ‘The Milk Capital of India’ and built their AMUL, NDDB, GCMMF, IRMA, and empowered so many millions of Indians through these institutions. In one instance, a large group of farmers, who were agitated for some reason wanted to enter into the AMUL Dairy. When his colleague H. M. Dalaya called him expressing the concern that farmers might destroy the dairy, he replied, “let them destroy the dairy. We can always rebuild it. But if we destroy the institution, we can never rebuild that”. Such was his faith in the institution – his belief that ownership belonged to the producers of milk – farmers, women and men. On another occasion, he stated, “What use is democracy in Delhi if we do not have democratic institutions at the grass-root levels?”.
Kurien’s life is an example of nation-building. He himself has highlighted the fact that even after being a Christian (he was an atheist though) and coming from Kerala, these identities never occurred to people he worked with in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country. Tribhuvandas, the founding chairman of Kaira Milk Producers’ Cooperative, believed in his professional competence and integrity. Above all the sectarian identities, Kurien at multiple occasions has asserted that his only and most important identity is of an Indian. This is reflected in his exchanges with the foreign dignitaries and professionals of multinational and multilateral organizations, and of course in his work for rural women and men.
When one Kurien could achieve so much, imagine if India could produce few thousands of women and men of his vision, belief and calibre, what could it achieve! Those fear taking risks and working for larger good, Kurien has an advice, “In life, anything can go wrong at any time and mostly does. Yet there is little correlation between the circumstances of people’s lives and how happy they are”.
Featured image credit: Daily Mail