28 September 2012

We are glad, Dr. Verghese Kurien

The Agrarian Research and Training Institute, where I worked briefly in the early nineties, used to organize lectures by eminent persons whose work was relevant to the research staff.  One such lecture was on livestock development and in particular about dairy farming.  The speaker was   Kurien.

He told his story. 

Verghese Kurien was an engineer but that’s not how he is remembered.  He was known in India as the Father of the White Revolution for launching and tending the world’s greatest agricultural development program which took India from being a milk-deficient nation to the largest milk producer in the world, surpassing the USA in 1998.  He also made his country self-sufficient in edible oils too, but that’s another story.

Kurien spoke how he went from ministry to ministry seeking help to build the dairy industry, using ‘milk-aid’, i.e. ‘excess’ milk produced by the USA donated in order to maintain high prices.  He spoke about cooperatives.  About cooperation.  About how solidarity and vision can beat the odds.  He told us how the brand he created, Amul, took on Nestle and won. 

He talked of tough times.  The obstacles.  The trials.  The triumphs.  He took us through years and decades, interjected anecdotes, pointed to landmarks and drew the unmistakable thread of cooperative principles in the transformations he helped bring about. 

A few years later, i.e. after the People’s Alliance came to power, an enthusiastic minister invited Kurien to advice the Government on developing the milk industry.  Sri Lanka with a long history of cooperatives (the first credit cooperative was set up in 1906 and subsequent to a revitalization effort in the late eighties developed into a bank, insurance company and other such entities with island-wide networks) and is culturally open to the ideas of solidarity, togetherness, sharing etc.  Kurien’s ideas have not yielded anything close to ‘Amul’.  We don’t have our ‘Anand’.   We might get there someday, but perhaps only because we’ve exhausted other options, i.e. all those prescribed by the World Bank and IMF and scripted into policy by way of subtle arm-twisting.

That’s another story.

Verghese Kurien died a few days ago at the age of 91.  He was an Indian.  He was a global citizen.  He was an Indian and one who was nothing like his countrymen and countrywomen who off-shored a simmering separatist movement and with ‘milk of kindness’ posturing facilitated blood-letting.  Kurien gave us milk.  The greatest milk: ideas.   True, we haven’t learnt enough and haven’t put into practice what he taught, but that too is another story.  

Veghese Kurien is someone who we can say ‘An OUR kind of Indian’, a friend, a neighbor, a member of the family. An elder we would feel no shame in touching whose feet.  

He was born a Christian but claimed he was an atheist, so we can’t say ‘rest in peace’.  We can say ‘you walked this earth and we are grateful that you did’.