India talks socialism and pays lip service to poverty alleviation. But when it comes to the highest civilian award for exemplary service to the nation - we have not adequately recognised the work of this giant individual who transformed lives in rural India.
Verghese Kurien, gave up his home state of Kerala to build a unique milk cooperative movement, which transformed the lives of millions of poor rural Indians. He make them self-sufficient. He empowered women. He eradicated poverty in a pocket of India. But that's not all. In Amul, he built one of the biggest brands in India. One that we are all proud of and which is going strong after half a century.
There has been a spontaneous demand from ordinary Indians for a Bharat Ratna to be conferred on India’s milkman Dr Verghese Kurien, who passed away recently at the age of 90. People have been saying this in the social media and in emails and letters to newspapers. Some of us thought that the best way to make these voices heard collectively is through an online petition that allows everyone to sign up and explain their stance.
Here are 10 reasons why India must recognize Verghese Kurien’s contribution with a Bharat Ratna-
1. His breadth of vision was stunning. No matter how familiar we may be with his work it is awe inspiring: He transformed India from a milk-deficit country to the world’s largest milk producer and did 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.
2. In doing so he brightened the future of a millions of children by ensuring they had access to milk in when they needed it the most, in their childhood.
3. Operation Flood or the white revolution worked, not because it was a social experiment, but because of Dr Kurien’s shrewdness and strategic vision in creating a national marketing machine that matched wits with the best multinationals.
4. It also worked because he built Amul into one of India’s biggest brands since independence. Its mascot, the Amul girl has charmed the nation for half a century.
5. Dr Kurien had the ability to recognize and nurture the finest talent and give them room to deliver – he did this with his advertising agency, to create an iconic outdoor campaign with the “utterly butterly Amul” tagline. It comments on everyday events.
6. In building Amul, Dr Kurien demonstrated that efficiency isn’t dependent on profit motive alone, as is the modern belief. He remained unaffected by the mountain of money that he controlled in the 1970s and 1980s – over Rs 2000 crore in liquid cash at one stage.
7. Importantly, Dr Kurien’s genius at the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the creation of an iconic brand in Amul happened in a closed and highly restrictive economy.
8. India has no other brand of a similar stature even from the private sector in the 50 years since Amul or even in the 20 years after economic liberalization.
9. History will remember Dr Kurien as India’s real Bharat Ratna because no individual has impacted the lives of ordinary and rural Indians the way he did in the last 50 years.
10. By giving Dr Kurien the recognition that he richly deserves, the government will demonstrate that our highest civilian award goes to a person who has truly lived up to the socialist ideals that India embraced at independence.
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