Born into a Syrian Christian family, on November 26, 1921, in Kozhikode (Kerala), Kurien was the third of the four siblings.
The architect of India’s dairy revolution was a mechanical engineer from the University of Madras, who also did Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University. He had undergone a specialised training in dairying from the National Dairy Research Institute, Bangalore, before setting up Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) on the advice of the then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Having spent 33 long years in building milk cooperatives in Gujarat, Kurien leaves behind a Rs 10,000-crore establishment.
Kurien began his journey in Anand way back in 1949 and had been instrumental in transforming the lives of over 15 million farmer families. He built a series of institutions, such as Amul, GCMMF, IRMA, NDDB, National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India, Anandalaya School and various state dairy cooperative federations and district-level milk producers’ cooperative unions. In the process, he transformed India into the world’s largest milk producer, created the world’s largest food marketing business and the country’s largest food brand (Amul).
He always chose to attribute the success of milk cooperatives in Gujarat to Tribhuvandas Patel, his mentor and friend.
“Many found it strange that, for so many years, a Keralite Christian had been regularly and unanimously elected chairman of the GCCMF. There was a time when I was also the chairman of Gujarat State Electricity Board. Another time I was vice-chancellor of Gujarat Agriculture University. I doubt if in my own state of Kerala, a Gujarati would ever have been given these important positions of power. Yet I am aware that none of this would have been possible without Tribhuvandas Patel,” he writes in his autobiography I Too Had a Dream, in which he also wrote that he wanted to be cremated in Anand.
Sadly, his exit from the institutions he created were not as smooth as he would have wanted them to be.
The power struggle between Kurien and his protege Amrita Patel in full public glare saw the octogenarian being compelled to resign from the chairmanship of GCMMF in April 2006.
Awarded with the prestigious Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, World Food Prize and Magsaysay Award, Kurien saw many rooting for a Bharat Ratna for him.
In Kozhikode, his friend Abdul Azeez recalls how Kurien wanted to visit the house in Kozhikode where his family stayed. Azeez says he located the house and took Kurien there during the latter’s visit to Kozhikode in 2008. “However, on reaching near the house, Kurien suddenly changed his mind and we returned,” he says, adding that Kurien’s last visit to Kozhikode was in 2010.