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One Man Can Make A Difference

One Man Can Make A Difference

On 26th November, the National Milk Day, Amul gave a fitting tribute to the ‘milk man’ of India, Dr. Verghese Kurien, through a sublime advertisement in The Times of India newspaper as follows.  

“Who says one man cannot make a difference?

One man made a milk-deficit country the largest milk producer

in the world by producing 220 crore glasses of milk every day.

One man made this possible by empowering millions of women farmers

through a cooperative movement in the dairy industry.

One man continues to inspire generations with his fearlessness to protect

the integrity and honesty in the organizations he created.

One man built a brand that went on to become India’s largest food brand.

Because, one man can not only change the lives of 158 lakh

farmer families in India but also make a difference to the world at large.”


I was fortunate to read the biographies of two illustrious sons of India: Dr. Verghese Kurien, the ‘milk man’ of India and E. Sreedharan, the ‘metro man’ of India. Both of them deserve the highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, if the criterion for conferring the award is the contribution that one makes to the nation and the world. In fact, their contributions to the nation and humanity are mindboggling.  Unfortunately, our political leaders have converted the national awards into instruments to promote their political interests and their divisive ideologies. If these two persons are honoured with Bharat Ratna, I think, the nation will be doing justice to the very purpose of the award.

After reading the biography of E. Sreedharan by M S Ashokan I wrote an article in the Indian Currents, ‘Spirituality: The Foundation of Greatness’. I found in the person of E Sreedharan the qualities or attributes of a spiritual person. A spiritual person is different from a religious person. A spiritual person need not be religious and often religious persons are not spiritual. The gau rakshaks who kill innocent people on the pretext of protecting cows are highly religious persons; but they are neither spiritual nor human. The terrorists, who killed 305 people and injured 128 at Rawdah mosque in Sinai in Egypt on November 24, are highly religious; but they do not deserve to be called human beings. Spiritual persons are those who practice human and ethical values like honesty and integrity, justice, equality, sensitivity and compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation, respect etc.

Dr. Verghese Kurien in his autobiography, ‘I too had a Dream’, acknowledges that he was an atheist. He says that he willingly went to the church only once, although he was Christian, and it was for his marriage.  “ When I was young, I had to memorise parts of the Bible and perform rituals. It was perhaps this experience that turned me into an atheist. When I grew up, I saw people using religion to earn money and fool others. This made my belief all the more stronger. I don't, however, thrust my beliefs and ideologies on anyone. Religion devoid of spirituality can become not only poisonous but also disastrous and that is what happened throughout the history and that is what is being unfolded today in different parts of the world, including India.” 

Dr. Verghese Kurien might have looked at the ugly side of religion and decided to be an atheist and at the same time spiritual. On the other hand E Sreedharan looks at the spiritual dimension of religion and he imbibes inspiration, energy, courage and creativity from the meditation on the scriptures, particularly the Bhagawat Gita. At the same time he doesn’t do much of rituals. Mother Theresa drew inspiration and strength from religion by following Jesus of Nazareth whose way of life and teachings are highly spiritual. Jesus did not follow most of the rituals and laws of the Jews that were dehumanizing. He enunciated a new way of life based on love and taught his disciples to follow the new way of life.

Dr. Verghese Kurien’s life, as revealed through his autobiography, vindicates that he was truly a spiritual person. If he could make a positive difference in the lives of 1.58 core farmer families it was because he was a spiritual person. Only spiritual persons can bring about positive change in the lives of the people. “ I believe that our destiny is written by us, not by God. If we have the spirit and will to achieve something, we will definitely get that”. My philosophy in life is to do as much good as I can to those who are less fortunate. But, I would like to live my life as a common man”. Implicitly Dr. Kurien acknowledged, though not explicitly, the presence of the divine power within him and in others. That is why he could dedicate his life for transforming the lives of millions of poor farmers of India, living in a rustic town like Anand for 50 years, although he had the opportunity to become the CEO of a multi-national company and lead a luxurious life.

Integrity and honesty were the hallmarks of Dr. Verghese Kurien throughout his life. He never compromised with honesty however trying the situation was. He inherited these values from his parents, but they were fostered in him by leaders like Thribuvan Das Patel and H M Patel. “H M Patel was an example of unflinching integrity and commitment to principle”, says Dr. Kurien in his autobiography. In spite of implementing projects worth of billions of rupees never an allegation of corruption was made against him. In a letter written to his grandson in 2005 Dr. Kurien wrote, “I have often spoke of integrity as the most important of these values, realizing that integrity-and personal integrity, at that- is being honest to yourself. If you are always honest to yourself, it does not take much effort in always being honest with others.”

Money was not at all a priority in his life.  He writes in his autobiography, “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. Our family, I think, was truly very blessed because we always had only just enough”. The maximum salary he ever drew was Rs. 5000/- as the chairman and General Manager of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF). If he had decided to work in a multi-national company he would have drawn a monthly salary of rupees 60,000/- to 70,000/- at the time of his retirement. He enjoyed working for the poor farmers and that was his greatest reward. “Working with Tribhuvandas and Kaira’s dairy farmers, I saw that when you work merely for your own profit, the pleasure is transitory; but if you work for others, there is a deeper sense of fulfilment…”. He also says, “For me, helping to build and shape a cooperative society owned and commanded by milk producers has always been the greatest reward”.

Unreserved commitment to a cause is another important quality noticed in spiritual persons. Dr. Kurien’s commitment to the wellbeing of the dairy farmers was total. A glimpse of his commitment is reflected in a piece of advice given by Maniben Patel, daughter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to Dr. Kurien’s wife, Molly. “You must always remember that you are Kurien’s second wife. His first wife is the dairy. Don’t ever forget that and don’t make yourself miserabe being jealous. And never, never, try to snatch your husband away from his first wife.” Dr. Kurien believed that true development is the development of men and women. This conviction made him to stay for 50 years in the sleepy town of Anand, without searching for a better life. Unfortunately, many of our policy makers and implementers believe that our nations’ men and women are means, not ends.

Sensitivity to other human beings is another hallmark of a spiritual person. At the initial stages of Amul diary Dr. Kurien had the habit of taking a walk around the dairy. One day he spotted an old employee, with a big moustache and a beard, who opened the lid of one of the milk cans and was sucking the cream. The very next day he told the manger that every worker had to be given half a litre of milk every day. “These men were handling vast quantities of milk all day long and they were hungry. It was not fair that they did not have a share of the milk,” he said.

Spiritual persons have big dreams that may appear to be madness to others. Kurien had a dream to make India self-sufficient in milk through dairy farmer’s cooperatives. The ‘operation flood’ he initiated is a shining example for his creativity and innovation.  India has become the largest producer of milk in the world because of the ‘operation flood’. The cost of milk production in India is 40% lower than the corresponding figures for European Union.

Spiritual persons do not run away from challenges, but they welcome challenges because they see an opportunity in every challenge. Dr. Kurien’s life is a story of accepting challenges one after another and performing miracles by making use of the opportunities hidden in them. When Nestle refused to put up a plant in India for making condensed milk, Kurien converted it into an opportunity for Amul to make condensed milk. Dr. Kurien was of the firm view that foreign investment can only help us in areas where Indian capital, Indian know-how, is not available.

As a member of the Board of Directors of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad Dr. Kurien suggested that the students after completing their studies should serve India at least for three years before they migrate to other countries. One of the board members ridiculed him saying, “So Dr. Kurien, you want our graduates to go and milk cows”. Kurien walked out and resigned from the board. He took it as a challenge and started the Indian Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) in 1979 to meet the need for professionally trained rural managers for the cooperatives and the NGO sector of India.

Dr. Kurien remained a humble person, although he had received many awards. As regards his attitude towards awards he has written in his book, “I have been acutely conscious that these awards, in fact, do not honour Verghese Kurien as much as they honour millions of dairy farmers of our country, who against all odds, raised India to the first rank among world’s milk producing nations.” Only three awards, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan adorn Kurien’s room. More than 150 awards and citations adorn the walls of Amul Museum.

If Dr. Kurien could make a difference in the lives of 158 lakh farmers’ families and make India the largest milk producing country in the world, it was because of his total commitment to the cause of dairy farmers, honesty and integrity, ability to dream big, creativity and innovation and courage and readiness to accept challenges. In other words he was visionary and spiritual. Dr. Verghese Kurain challenges the 134 core Indians. Each one of them has the capacity and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people of India. Dr. Kurien is a challenge to the present day leaders who waste tax payer’s money to build huge statues and organize mega events to showcase their political clout and to create vote bank.  

A true nationalist or patriot is the one who contributes to improve the living conditions of people of India, especially those who are at the bottom of the economic pyramid. 50,000 or 100,000 people singing Vande Matharam together at place will not make India great. If India has to become great, pseudo-nationalism is to be replaced by the love and commitment for the people of India.

(Published on 04th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 49)