The knight in white armour

The knight in white armour

A roaring success, the Anand model was replicated nationwide, ushering in the White Revolution

As the trains chug into Anand, the sleepy station gears up for a remarkable journey ahead. It’s a must-stop for all the long-distance trains on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route, to be attached with insulated milk tankers for ferrying all over the country. Celebrating the saga of Amul, the indomitable spirit of the cooperative movement, realising the billion-litre vision of Dr Verghese Kurien.

A young Dr Kurien landed at a run-down creamery in the non-descript town to serve a government bond in lieu of a scholarship. The weekends saw the bored young man tinker with the primitive dairy equipment of Tribhuvandas Patel. Eager to leave after he quit midway, he was roped in by Patel to help him with his fledgling milk cooperative.

Soon, the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd, Amul Dairy in popular parlance, took form. And the technocrat stayed on, forever. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history, with his name emblazoned in “white gold” in annals of recent Indian chronicles.

As a young nation having its tryst with destiny, we were milk-scarce and imported milk powder… packaged fresh milk was still a distant reality. Recognising the abundance of buffalo milk here, Dr Kurien decided to market it big time with his pioneering initiatives.

“Making condensed milk could not be left to the natives,” the Padma Vibhushan awardee was told when he visited Nestle, Switzerland in 1956. Dr Kurien, instead, made every member farmer a dairy owner who collectively controls the procurement, processing and marketing of their products through cooperatives.

No milk was refused from any farmer, with the surplus being converted to powder and other byproducts, which helped them tide over the lean season. Within two years, the government banned imports of condensed milk.

A roaring success, the Anand model was replicated nationwide, ushering in the White Revolution. Operation Flood became a reality, making India the world’s largest milk producer. And dairy farming became our largest self-sustaining industry, providing a third of all rural income.

Continuing in the same cooperative vein, about half a million farmers contributed ₹2 each for the making of auteur Shyam Benegal’s Manthan, chronicling the Amul movement, featuring the hauntingly beautiful Smita Patil. The Amul girl, the cheeky moppet commenting on topical issues came alive and still does because Dr Kurien let the ad-makers do their job without interference… all part of Amul folklore. My favourite comic book Amar Chitra Katha by my favourite Uncle Pai, too, honoured the man with an edition.

Amul, shortened from Amulya means precious… a mere commodity in the West, milk is a livelihood for millions of people here. The simple combination of farmers’ innate wisdom and critical institutional support by the “milkman” of India helped secure just that. Surely, quite a knight in “white” armour.

Watch the latest DH Videos here:

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox