RK Nagar Writes; The Humble Giant

Today 3rd June 2020 is 26th Punyatithi of Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel.
Our humble tributes

We all know late Shri Tribhuvandas Patel or Tribhuvan kaka as the founder chairman of Amul.

We all have heard the story of shy young man sitting in a corner was picked up by Sardar Patel to lead the cooperative movement of the dairy farmers of Kheda district against the exploitation by the private dairy that monopolised milk procurement in Kheda district to supply butter to the British army.

We also know how he led Amul for 35 years as its chairman and how he retained Dr. Kurien as the professional manager of the nascent cooperative way back in 1949.

In Dr. Kurien’s own words, ‘By agreeing to my somewhat outrageous demand of a princely salary of Rs. 600 per month, he tied me to Amul and the dairy cooperative movement for life’.


We also know that by giving Kurien- the professional manager he had hired-total freedom to manage the affairs of the business, he set an example for the cooperative leadership to keep within its legitimate role-that of motivating the farmers and strengthen the cooperative movement while leaving day to day business to the professionals.

In the process, well before the application of the modern management principles in agricultural sector, he set an outstanding example of the relationship between the cooperative and business leaders to follow for the success of a cooperative business venture.


Although he won the Ramon Magsaysay award with Dr Kurien and late Shri DN Khurody in 1963 for community leadership, he always kept a low profile. When he learnt that the government of India is not funding Dr. Kurien, the Chairman of the newly formed NDDB to run his office (an institution that was created by none other than the late prime minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri himself to replicate Dairy cooperatives on Amul model throughout India) he not only funded it but also provided technical manpower support from Amul, knowing fully well that one day these cooperatives will stand in competition with Amul. He truly believed that the cooperative dairy movement should benefit not just the milk producers of Gujarat but also benefit all the dairy farmers of India. He believed that the NDDB must be supported to transform the Indian dairy sector, and he was always willing to go an extra mile to hold the hand of both the NDDB and the cooperatives.


In fact, I feel it was this outstanding leadership quality of Tribhuvan Kaka that gave India its future leader for the dairy sector in Dr. Verghese Kurien. I call Tribhuvan Kaka a giant of a leader because only a leader like him could make another giant of a leader- Dr. Kurien.


Much of it had happened well before I joined NDDB in 1969. So, when I heard about his role in creation of Amul and supporting NDDB, I desired to meet this great man at least once.


In the picture above Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel is seen along with Dr. V.Kurien and Shri HM Dalaya

But I never got a chance to meet and interact with him. I only saw him sometimes in NDDB office when he came to meet Dr. Kurien and Mike to discuss about Tribhuvandas Foundation- an institution that was created from the purse he received on retirement after 35 years of the Chairmanship of Amul.

Although one such chance did get created when as head of planning, I managed an inland fisheries pilot project. We had hired NK Saxena, who had specialised in fisheries to oversee the pilot project.

The idea of the pilot was to explore if a village level fisheries cooperative or an alternate institutional structure can be created to utilise the village pond – a common village property to generate income to be used by the village panchayat for the development of the village.


We were to utilise the outcome of this experiment to evolve a project that would have covered almost 500 village ponds of Kheda district and could be implemented by the Tribhuvandas Foundation.

Working with TF was in accordance with one of the six action teams that a Mike had listed in TF’s proposal under which the village youth were to be involved in some income generating activities using the common village resource.


In the pilot project, we were to integrate both the village pond and surrounding land. Pond to grow fish and the land to grow a combination of trees that would bring regular annual income to the village panchayat. A team from amongst poorest of the resource poor of the village was to be formed and trained to manage the activity. We broadly planned to use the income on such actions that would benefit the entire village like, a drinking water trough for the animals, improve drainage and use it after filtration for irrigation and thus prevent contamination of village pond, maintain village school building, build toilets and improve drinking water facilities in schools to name a few.

We were working on the premise that these activities can be easily integrated under the umbrella of the TF. Each village panchayat was, of course, to decide its own priorities and allocate funds.


Our experimental village was Waghasi. We leased the village pond, successfully raised sweet water fish and learnt that a village level fisheries cooperative is not feasible. Since village pond is a common property, it’s size and income generation potential was too limited to support more than 10-12 families. A cooperative formed with restricted membership will always be vulnerable and will hardly stand a chance to survive. We therefore thought of an alternate institutional arrangement wherein the TF was to have a more important role.

I accordingly prepared a blue print outlining the activities that could be successfully undertaken on the common property resource that would generate the income for the village without forming a vulnerable village level institution. The CEO of the foundation suggested that since fisheries is planned as a key activity, we should present the entire plan to Tribhuvan Kaka and seek his approval. I was therefore eagerly looking forward to a chance not only to meet him but also to get his views on the proposal. This was my chance to meet the great man.


But it didn’t happen that way. The day we took the first harvest to campus for sale-some 200 kg of live fresh water fish, straight out of pond and kept in water till sale, the entire lot of campus residents from the eastern part of country swarmed the sale counter and the entire lot was sold out in just half an hour. I guess they are bestowed with a nose that can smell fish from ten miles.

Moreover, the prices at which it was sold (same as prevalent market price in Anand) I am sure they won’t even get to smell the sweet water fish in Kolkata. The freshness of the fish made the early birds pick bulk of it.

There, however were two unfortunate buyers. Both had moved from Delhi office few months back. When their spouses reached the sale counter around 530 pm all the fish was gone and a helpless Saxena could only apologise. By 5.45 pm, I was no longer handling the pilot project. “Why is the planning fellow handling a project which is for the farmer’s organisation to implement” was the question asked. Anyway, I lost my only chance to meet Kaka that very moment.


In June 1986, I was transferred to Bangalore.By this time Tribhuvan kaka was, I guess in his 80’s and he was rarely coming to NDDB office. Therefore any chance of meeting him in person was exceedingly slim. I had also assumed that from now on I will move from one region to another and that in this lifetime, I wouldn’t have a chance to meet him. I almost forgot about it and abandoned the idea of meeting him ever.


But in June 1990 I was transferred back to Anand.

This time to handle MIO and Dhara. As such I had to travel to Ahmedabad quite often for meetings at GROFED.

One day same time in 1993, to my utter surprise Shri Chatwal, who was managing guest relations called and asked me, “Nagar, you have requisitioned a car to go to Ahmedabad tomorrow morning. Would it be possible for you to give a lift to Tribhuvan Kaka? He has some 3-4 hours work there with a cooperative institution”.


I just couldn’t believe it. I was finally going to meet the person I have adored for such a long time. I told Chatwal Saab, “please give me his number. It will be an honour and I will call Kaka right away to fix the time for pick up”.


I called Kaka and heard a very humble voice from the other end, “Nagar Saab, I am Tribhuvandas. I learn that you are going to Ahmedabad tomorrow. If it is not inconvenient, can I get a lift to Ahmedabad? I have some work there”.

I replied, “Kaka, please don’t request, just order”. Back came the reply in a still humbler voice, “no Nagar Saab, it is not befitting for me to order, I can only request”. His humility was choking me. I asked, “Kaka, when can I come and pick you”. “Don’t come to pick me, it will be inconvenient for you to come to this congested part of the town. I will meet you” and he indicated a meeting point that was quite far from his house in his reply.


“No Kaka, I will come as near your house as possible and then send my driver to your house. Till then, please, please don’t leave your house”. He reluctantly agreed to my proposal.


Next day, I picked him at the appointment time and we travelled together to and from Ahmedabad. I had finally met the humble giant I had adored from the very first day I heard the story of how he retained Dr. Kurien at a princely salary of Rs 600 per month.

Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel with Mrs. and Dr. V Kurien standing in front of the garage where Dr. Kurien used to stay when he came to Anand in 1949 and came in contact with Shri TRibhuvandas K Patel.


Now just imagine what would have happened had he allowed Dr. Kurien to go? I guess, there wouldn’t have been THE AMUL that became a model to replicate and without that model, there wouldn’t have been the NDDB, IRMA, THE DAIRY COOPERATIVES ACROSS THE COUNTRY and scores of other associated institutions.

Do we who had a chance to work in this network of institutions ever realise that we owe our existence in this field to this humble giant-Tribhuvandas K Patel?

I feel deeply grateful to him for creating an opportunity for me to be a part of this great movement.


We have been receiving interesting comments full of nostalgic appreciation of the The Humble Giant!

I will try to post some of those comments here.

Thank you Nagar for your writing about the man but for whose foresight that gave us an opportunity to be a part of the movement which succeeded by leveraging the innate power of visionary leaders and professionals thereby creating institutions of consequence. Let us count our blessings.



Rajan Ganapathy
While working at Secretary NDDB’s office Anand I had the fortune of meveting sir Tribhuvandas saheb. He used to come to NDDB secretary”s office…. where I worked, to get photocopies of documents and paid forgot. Initially when I refused to accept the money from him he threatened to complain to Dr. Kurien!!!!

  • Bruce ScholtenBruce Scholten In his books, and in the first times in 1998 that I was lucky to meet Dr Kurien, he gratefully mentioned Tribhuvandas at every turn. To underline admiration for Tribhuvanadas, Dr K sent us to visit a village near Anand which facilitates women’s health and crafts. – From Facebook Comments

3 thoughts on “RK Nagar Writes; The Humble Giant”

  1. Impossible to get qualities like intelligence, hard work, devotion, honestly, living by example, retaining right person all in one person

    India needs more such selfless political leaders

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