The magic of
The Amul dairy
movement was a true agent of social change, the inheritor of the freedom
struggle. Verghese Kurien’s departure marks the death of the original
By Tridip Suhrud
On May 13, 1949, Verghese
Kurien, a 28-year-old Syrian Christian, trained in metallurgy and nuclear
physics, arrived in Anand. He was contract bound to the government of
India which had funded his higher education at the Michigan State University.
His appointment was at the government creamery, a 1914 creation, with
the missive to produce small quantities of milk powder from buffalo milk.
It was a task hardly worthy of his training and aspirations. The young
engineer played cards, ate valet-served dinner in the garage that was
his house and escaped to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai as often as his
monthly salary of Rs 350 allowed. If his life in Anand seemed purposeless,
the other half of the creamery was full of purpose and commitment. The
story of Verghese Kurien cannot be told without the story of the other
A part of the creamery was rented out by the government to the Kaira District
Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited (KDCMPUL) and its 46-year-old
chairman, Tribhuvandas Patel. Kheda was uniquely positioned for a cooperative
movement and for the dairy business. Gandhi’s Kheda Satyagraha of
1918 had sowed the seeds of a movement of the peasantry. Sardar Patel
had also nurtured the Kheda peasantry, dominated by his Patidar community.
Kheda was already a large milk supplier to the Bombay Milk Scheme (BMS).
Anand had a dairy, Polson, owned by Pestonjee Edulji, since 1926. Polson
had monopolised milk procurement from Kheda for BMS. Anand’s location
on the train route between Ahmedabad and Mumbai made this movement possible.
The Kheda Congress under the guidance of Sardar Patel and Morarji Desai
decided to challenge the monopoly of Polson. The man chosen was a satyagrahi,
Tribhuvandas Patel, and the mode was the cooperative movement. A meeting
was called at Chaklasi village in 1946 and two historic resolutions were
passed, which laid the foundation of the dairy cooperative movement in
India. The farmers resolved to not supply milk to Polson and to form a
cooperative in each village and to establish a union of these villages
at Anand. This meeting determined the essential features of what we now
know as the ‘Anand Pattern’. It rests on the farmers’
cooperatives owning and controlling the procurement, processing and marketing
of milk. Tribhuvandas led a 15-day-long milk strike, where farmers refused
to supply milk to Polson, preferring instead to pour it on the village
streets. In 1946, Tribhuvandas had established five village cooperatives
and also the KDCMPUL at Anand. Verghese Kurien resigned from his government
job but was persuaded by Tribhuvandas to join the Anand experiment. The
two decided to install a new dairy plant.
most advanced dairy plant owned by farmers and managed by Tribhuvandas
Patel as chairman of KDCMPUL and Kurien as general manager was installed
in a record time of 11 months and dedicated to the nation by Nehru on
October 31, 1955. Kurien had persuaded HM Dalaya, a dairy technologist
and fellow student at Michigan to join in the excitement. The farmers’
union registered the Amul trademark in 1957.
Revolution: Smita Patil in Shyam Benegal’s Manthan,
produced by the cooperative movement
Anand experiment was the outcome of caste consolidation, peasant
movement, Congress politics and technological and managerial commitment,
all working for nation-building
This remarkable achievement was a triumph of democratic process. The Anand
experiment was the outcome of caste consolidation, peasant movement, Congress
politics and technological and managerial commitment: all working towards
nation-building. Tribhuvandas and Kurien were ideal partners. Tribhuvandas
managed the political and the social processes of the peasantry and the
cooperative movement, while Kurien was a technocrat who was proud to be
a servant of the farmer.
The dairy cooperative brought new notions to Gujarat. The cooperatives
functioned as autonomous units in a transparent and democratic process.
It nurtured a commitment to quality: each member was paid by a measure
of the fat content of the milk. It was an invitation to be honest, and
the farmers did not fail. The cooperative created a large monetised rural
economy. It helped create and maintain rural infrastructure and experimented
with models of transfer of technologies — from hybrid milch animals
to scientifically produced cattle feed, to artificial insemination to
perhaps the finest rural and animal health delivery system in the country.
Arguably the best compliment to this model came from the disempowered.
Despite its caste basis, the idea of the cooperative came to be accepted
as a powerful means of organising the poor and the powerless. Dalits,
adivasis and women created powerful local social movements and organisations
on the basis of the mandali, Gujarat’s most significant social innovation.
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s one night stay at a farmer’s
house in Ajarpura village in 1965 demonstrated the nature of the political
commitment to Anand’s success. This led to the establishment of
the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), to replicate the Anand Pattern
countrywide. NDDB was entirely created by the funds gifted by the Amul
and Kheda farmers, perhaps the only instance where a national body was
created by a cooperative of the farmers.
Kurien was possessed by what he calls the ‘billion litre’
dream of making India self-reliant in milk and dairy produce. He conceived
Operation Flood to fund Indian dairy development through the sale of European
surpluses in milk powder and butter oil. It lasted 26 years (1970-1996)
and was the most ambitious programme to reconstitute liquid milk supply,
resettle urban cattle and improve their stock. Seventy-two thousand milk
cooperatives were formed in the process. Despite criticisms of ‘faulty
lactometers’ and ‘white lie’, the magic of Manthan endured;
The last three years have seen acrimonious public battles between Kurien
and Amrita Patel, his chosen successor at NDDB. At its core is a battle
about the identity of the cooperative ideal. Kurien has charged NDDB of
forsaking the cooperative ideal and moving towards a corporatised entity.
Kurien’s lone and increasingly shrill voice is not heard, largely
because the cooperative movement has all but lost its legitimacy. The
process began not in 2003-04 but in 1994. The death of Tribhuvandas, the
Congress’ demise in Gujarat and the failure of the cooperative movement
to sustain the democratic process led to a scenario where the cooperative
is no longer a movement. The cooperative without a democratic ideal was
bound to become part of the market forces. This failure was not Kurien’s.
It was an outcome of processes which rendered all democratic institutions
as instruments of political power and cooperatives a source of easy funding.
The large-scale failure of the cooperative banking industry in Gujarat
dealt a body blow not only to the small savings of millions but robbed
Gujarat of an innovation that was a true agent of change.
The last two years should, however, not cloud the ‘Anand Pattern’
and the two remarkable men who made it successful. The story of Polson
is instructive. Amul destroyed the exploitative monopoly of Polson; but
the NDDB library houses the bust of Pestonjee Edulji as a reminder of
his role in the development of the Indian dairy industry. We should be
capable of greater understanding and generosity. Verghese Kurien should
not be allowed to fade out as a ‘first day cover’. His dream
was the dream of democratic and self-reliant India; and that dream is
much larger than the men and women who dreamt it.
writer, an Ahmedabad-based social scientist, is translating Narayan Desai’s
four-part biography of Gandhi, Maru Jivan Ej Mari Vani, into English