Dr Verghese Kurien will always be remembered, not only because operation flood would not have been possible without him, but for many other lofty reasons
Death has a way of clearing our vision, wiping out the bad and putting a person’s real achievements in proper perspective. That is exactly why there is a spontaneous demand from ordinary Indians for a Bharat Ratna for India’s milkman Dr Verghese Kurien. Nobody can deny that Dr Kurien’s towering achievements are probably more deserving than many recent ‘Ratnas’. His breadth of vision was stunning; no matter how familiar we may be with it: transforming India from a milk-deficient country to the world’s largest milk producer and doing it through the cooperative route so that women and small farmers were empowered and found an additional source of revenue to augment their farm income. Then again, Operation Flood would not have worked if it were only about milk production and transforming rural lives. It was about Dr Kurien’s shrewdness and strategic vision in creating a national marketing machine that matched the best multinationals in wits, and a brand with a mascot that charmed the nation. He did this by getting the finest talent on board and giving them room to deliver. One must remember that Dr Kurien’s genius at Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the creation of an iconic brand in Amul all happened in a closed and highly restrictive economy. It is worth reflecting that there is no other Indian brand of a similar stature even from the private sector in two decades of liberalisation and phenomenal technological evolution.
Dr Kurien was always blunt and fiery, but it is exactly that which worked to build Amul until the last decade of his life. His bitter exit from GCMMF after being voted out in 2008 at the age of 84 and the acrimonious differences with former protégée at NDDB may have dented his image, but his death forces us to look at his whole life, reducing his last few years to a footnote. History will remember Dr Kurien as India’s real Bharat Ratna.