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Verghese Kurien: The Milkman of India


By Nithin Sridhar

India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals.

~Dr. Verghese Kurien

Independent India has seen many men and women whose inner calling has led them to dedicate their entire lives in the service of society. One such person was Dr. Verghese Kurien, who revolutionized the milk production that not only made the country self-sufficient in milk production but also brought prosperity to the farmers.

His Life: On this day, ninety-four years ago in 1921, Kurien was born in Calicut into a Syrian Christian family. He did his BSc in Physics in 1940 from Loyola College, Madras (now Chennai). Later, he obtained a degree in Mechanical engineering in Guindy and joined TISCO for a while.

Later, he joined the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in Bangalore and acquired training in Dairying. He finally went to Michigan University, US on a government scholarship and did his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Kurien returned to India in 1949 and the Government deputed him to Anand, a place in Gujarat where he was supposed to work for few years in return for Government’s scholarship.

Kurien soon quit his Government job, but was convinced by Tribhuvandas Patel, who was working to create a cooperative movement of farmers, to stay back in Anand. This marked the beginning of Kurien’s serious involvement in the milk industry and paved the way for the subsequent improvements that he brought about.

He married Susan Molly Peter in 1953, and they had a daughter Nirmala Kurien. He established many institutions like Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF) and Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). He tirelessly worked for the welfare of the poor farmers whose life, at times, completely depended on the dairy.

He also penned down a few books like ‘I Too Had a Dream’ and ‘An Unfinished Dream’. He was awarded multiple times in recognition of his work, including Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1963, Krishi Ratna Award (1986) and Padma Vibhushan in 1999.

Kurien finally passed away on September 9, 2012, after living a fulfilling life filled with hard work, dedication, and service. He was a simple man with a simple goal of serving the society. To quote his own words: “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”.


White Revolution: In 1946, Tribhuvandas Patel united dairy farmers and formed Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited (KDCMPUL) in order to fight against the monopoly of the dairy market and the exploitation of the farmers by Polson dairy. They procured an old dairy (of World War I times) and started producing dairy products.

When Dr Kurien arrived in Anand, Tribhuvandas recognized his potential and requested him to help in developing the cooperative. Kurien gave various advices regarding the management of the dairy and the new machineries that are to be procured for manufacturing milk.

Kurien was touched by the struggles and hardships faced by the farmers. He, along with Tribhuvandas, worked day and night for making the cooperative a success. Kurien finally joined the cooperative in the official capacity of General Manager. In 1951, the cooperative got rid of its old machinery and bought new ones from Larsen and Toubro (L&T).

This step significantly helped the cooperative to scale up its production. From a mere 200 liter procuring capacity in 1948, it increased exponentially to a capacity of 20,000 liters in 1952.

In 1955, Kurien, with the help of Dairy expert H. M. Dalaya, was successful in producing milk powder using buffalo milk. This was another turning point in Dairy industry. The KDCMPUL, was renamed as ‘Amul’ (Anand Milk Union Limited) in 1957. In 1965, after Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, requested Kurien to replicate the Anand model at other places, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was set up.

It was through this NDDB that Kurien used to set up ‘Operation Flood’ that turned India from being a milk deficient country to becoming world’s largest milk producer. In 1968, when Europe had surplus production of milk, Kurien presented the NDDB proposal to World Food Programme (WFP) and convinced them to donate the surplus milk and milk products, which he could then sell at regular price at metropolitan cities, capture the market there, and use the funds generated to make India a self-sufficient country in milk production.

Kurien successfully implemented this Operation Flood over 30 years in three phases. By the end of Phase 2, in 1985, the project managed to establish 130 milk-sheds and 43,000 village cooperatives. The domestic milk powder production saw a drastic increase from 22,000 tons to 140,000 tons. The Phase 3 that ended in 1996, added another 30,000 village cooperatives.

Thus, Kurien, along with support from people like Tribhuvandas, completely revolutionized the dairy industry, accomplished a white revolution and made India the largest producer of milk. More importantly, Kurien’s efforts removed monopoly and exploitation by the middle men, and helped the farmers retain the majority of the profits from this endeavor.

Google India is celebrating his contributions to Indian society by creating a Doodle on him:Google Doodle celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr. Verghese Kurien

Google Doodle celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr. Verghese Kurien


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Amul: Setting new standards in Indian advertising

While Amul’s topicals ads were very popular, they also posed a challenge – they needed to be released quickly or else, they would lose much of their impact.

Amul is a farmers' cooperation whose ad campaigns have helped it compete with big private giants. Wikimedia Commons
Amul is a farmers' cooperation whose ad campaigns have helped it compete with big private giants. Wikimedia Commons

Amul was the result of a cooperative movement in 1946, against Polson, which allegedly procured milk at low rates from farmers in Gujarat to it sell to the Bombay government.

Today jointly owned by 3.6 million milk producers in Gujarat, it is a brand managed by a cooperative body the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (GCMMF), which was formed in 1948.

Amul is worth 5 billion today. However, how come a farmers’ cooperative was successful in creating a brand name that would compete with its private competitors?

The story started nine years after the brand name Amul was registered, the story of ‘Amul girl’.

Amul's topical ads helped Amul gain its footing.
Amul’s topical ads helped Amul gain its footing.

An advertising agency comes in

In 1957, Dr. Verghese Kurien, founding-chairman, decided to advertise the products and hired an advertising agency called Advertising and Sales Promotion (ASP).

Their team was headed by Sylvester daCunha and Eustace Fernandes. They came up with the line ‘Utterly Butterly Delicious’ in 1966. Fernandes, who was an art director, designed the Amul girl.

The agency opted for outdoor hoardings, as advertising in television or print was not as simple as it is today. ASP’s team knew, if they wanted this to be a long-term campaign, with the Amul girl being the face of the brand, they needed to look beyond her association with food.

The Amul girl went topical for the first time when she addressed the Naxalite movement in Bengal. The movement was a major at that time and ‘Cholbe na, cholbe na’ was their slogan. That’s when daCunha came up with an idea for a hoarding in Kolkata- Bread without Amul Butter, cholbe na cholbe na.

Apparently, that indeed was the first topical but even the first unintentionally controversial Amul hoarding. It was treated as a success, and the Amul girl began her journey to being an opinion leader on current issues.

Amul's ads are often on the current issues.
Amul’s ads are often on the current issues.

While Amul’s topicals ads were very popular, they also posed a challenge – they needed to be released quickly or else, they would lose much of their impact.

Realizing that the protocol and logistics of approving and releasing an ad took a lot of time, Dr. Varghese Kurien gave DaCunha the freedom to run the campaign without waiting to take permission from the company.

By 1969, Fernandes moved on to form Raedeus Advertising while Sylvester founded daCunha Communications, which continued with the Amul campaign.

How the ad campaign works now

  • Choose one issue that has been trending for the week.
  • Choose a witty punch-line.
  • Make a ‘hand-painted’ visual (the unique part).

And that’s the perfect recipe for an Amul topical.

The sketch is then posted on Amul’s social media handles, while some make their way into newspapers and on hoardings. A ‘topical’ is churned out almost five days a week across multiple platforms—200 hoardings across the country, leading national and regional newspapers, as well as on social media platforms.

The relevance of Amul girl today

Amul girl is a mascot. Mascots were necessary for earlier days for brands because of the lack of literacy. It was a form of trade-marking at a time when people could not read and identification was done visually i.e. it was image led and brands would trade-mark the image. However, eventually, mascots became irrelevant.

For example, the Maharaja created for Airlines, in 1946 by SK Kooka and Umesh Rao of advertising agency J Walter Thompson. Earlier, aviation services were limited to a few rich people. Hence, they had chosen a Maharaja. Though after the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India in 2006, he was changed to slim from fat and was made stand straight instead of bent forward. Also, with the changing profile of the Indian flyer, and with the airline connecting smaller cities and not just metros, the Maharaja donned new clothes.

Eventually, celebrities came into the picture, as they were a short-cut to brand recognition. In contrast to mascots which require time, investment, and a danger of becoming irrelevant, celebrities gave quick results.

But through the downfall and makeovers of her major counterparts, from Maharaja to Gattu, from the shortcuts to celebrities and several controversies, the wide-eyed Amul girl has been and survived it all.