Verghese Kurien: One-on-one
Dr Verghese Kurien, the nation’s doodhwala, finally hung up his boots on Monday. But he didn’t do it willingly. The 84-year-old had to do so under pressure. By resigning as chairman of GCMMF, he pre-empted a planned move by 12 of the dairy federation’s board members to oust him. Chairman for a tad over 30 years, Dr K is known for unleashing the milk revolution in the country, a subject which was made into a celebrated film by Shyam Benegal, titled Manthan. In an extensive conversation with Sandeep Bamzai, he says perhaps, he still has a few aces up his sleeves. Excerpts:
There must be a sense of hurt with this decision today?
I guess it is good that it came after 34 years and not 24 years. Things happen and I guess this was one of them.
But is this a result of your long running feud with NDDB boss Amrita patel, who in any case is a protege of yours...
The cooperative movement is an article of faith and faith for me is belief without reason. Even though I groomed her, she unfortunately has shown no faith. Which is a travesty. The board of the federation met today and asked me whether I should resign and I said I am 84 years old, I have played my innings and maybe it was time for me to go. At the same time, I am anguished and pained by the recent move of the GCMMF board against me. Having served the cooperative dairy sector for over five decades, do I deserve this treatment from the board members? Such acts pain me and raise concerns in my mind about where the movement that all of us built so assiduously is headed.
So, then why did you quit now, after all many attempts have been made in the past to unseat you?
My decision is in accordance of the recent Gujarat High Court order on the issue of cooption of members on the management committee of the cooperative bodies in Gujarat. As you know I believe in following the rule of law and principles of cooperatives in toto and hence I decided to resign. I must add that if the members feel that a younger and more virile person should head the GCMMF, then so be it. There was a vote of no confidence against me. I cannot hold onto a job forever. I created this enterprise and ran it for many years.
Is it true that another of your proteges B.M. Vyas, Managing Director of GCMMF, has also defected to Amrita Patel’s side, and this in turn acted as a catalyst for the pressure mounting on you to resign by at least 12 of the members of the federation?
One should always remember that if the Managing Director can put his chairman in trouble, then corporate democracy is at risk. Whether he has defected is another matter. Today he sent me a message that he wants to come and see me tomorrow. Let’s see what tomorrow holds. I also read today that Vyas wants to leave GCMMF and join a private sector company.
What is at stake here? Does Amrita Patel or B.M. Vyas want to be appointed chairman of GCMMF, the organisation behind Amul which is a very big brand in India today?
Then both of them are misinformed. Firstly, you have to be chairman of a district union, which they are not.
Is there a sense of fulfillment about what has been achieved?
You must understand the import of what we have been able to achieve. Much to the annoyance of the rest of the world, we are the world's largest producer of milk. With the help of lakhs of farmers, we created a global enterprise.
Have you spoken to anybody in government on this issue?
I am averse to involving anybody in the government on this. Yes, the President is somebody who was kind enough to unveil my book recently, but why should I burden him with this?
You said it was the farmers who helped you in creating this enterprise of faith. What about them, are they in agreement with what has transpired today?
I don't want to involve them at this stage, because the whole thing can turn volatile. I don’t want any problems in my old age. I will, however, continue to serve as the chairman of IRMA. But let me add that the last word hasn’t been said or written on this subject. The end comes when it ends. Maybe I still have several aces up my sleeve.
What does the future hold for you?
Only a couple of months ago, 15-odd Pakistanis came to me from their dairy field. They left behind a standing invitation for me, asking me to teach them how to produce milks. I told them
first stop eating the good cows. Sri Lankans, Filipinos and even African countries have come to me asking for help. I am too old to travel, maybe some of my deputies will go across and help them.