There has not been much written about Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel on Vrikshamandir. RK Nagar had written a blog “The Humble Giant” for Vrikshamandir last year. G Rajan also wrote a blog “ How much do I pay ? reminiscing a memorable interaction with Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel. Vrikshamandir feels honoured to publish of this blog on Shri TK Patel that Shri BM Vyas wrote in 2013.
I invite my former colleagues and all others who met and came in contact with Shri Tribhuvandas K Patel “Humble Giant and Guru of Dr Kurien” to write blogs and anecdotes about him.
One more request please leave your comments and reaction on this page. I have not yet mastered the skill of transferring such comments from Facebook and other social media platforms where this blog may appear to Vrikshamandir.
Shri TK Patel by BM Vyas
I was a recent engineering graduate when I joined Amul and it was more for a job, a relatively higher salary than my short previous stint and for the impact that Dr. Kurien had left behind when he had visited my college. Amul in those days seemed like a different land. It had lush green well-maintained lawns, spic and span dairy complex while the rest of the town, was almost a rustic rural setting. Little I knew, that this was about to change my life and that a living god silently working behind the scenes elevating soul of Amul for 22 years would leave such a lasting impact on the nation.
I admit that I was very ignorant then. After living in a neighboring town V.V.Nagar as a student for 5 years, and joining Amul I had neither heard nor read of Tribhuvan. Not even until October 31,1971 when I had already put in 6 months in Amul. I had heard of Bhai-kaka in Vallabh Vidyanagar and also of HM Patel, from my parents and grand parents. But little I knew about Tribhuvandas K Patel, who was the founding Chairman of Amul, and was assigned the responsibility to build a dairy cooperative in Kaira to prevent exploitations of milk producers. This responsibility was assigned to him by none other then Sardar Patel and Morarji Desai.
Tribhuvandas used to deliver interesting speech each year on the foundation day on 31st October and so also Dr. Kurien. All employees, old and new, along with the farmers & milk producers used to gather at Amul to hear them both, with rapt attention and great interest. In addition to that, they would similarly address at General Body Meetings and I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to listen to what they had to say.
Tribhuvandas would describe the difficult circumstances the cooperative was created in and how it is progressing since Dr. Kurien had joined. He would openly say all this development would have been impossible, if Kurien was not there. Dr. Kurien would then speak in English and some one would translate his speech in gujarati. Dr. Kurien would say “Tribhovandas is my guru! When I came to Anand, I used wear green felt cap, smoke cigar, drink and above all I was a bachelor. I had just returned from US after completing my post graduation. It was my good fortune, that here in Anand, I met my real guru. It is the combination of farmers wisdom and professional management that makes Amul a winning organization.”
He would say that those who are fortunate to have received higher education at the cost of poor must remember to subordinate their knowledge to the wisdom of farmers and thus serve the nation and noble cause. “Whatever I have done here is due to Tribhuvandas”.
Tribhuvandas was a visionary and he knew the need to reiterate the right message each year. In each and every meeting, he would mention that Amul as an organization is so designed, that it would always be able to fight any competition in dairy business and win. If anything, Amul milk producers need to be careful is about internal dissention. He would say, “We must ensure that we remove our political caps as we enter this organization. We keep our caste, religion, gender, class aside and just focus on Amul, and the cause. Amul should always watch disruptive forces emerging from within and eliminate such dissentions”. Both Tribhuvandas and Dr. Kurien reiterated these messages a umpteen number of times to sensitize every new member, employee, every visitor, be it a bureaucrat or a competitor!
People now know Dr. V Kurien and his immense contribution but few know of the contribution of Tribhuvandas in creating the most apt and comprehensive business model that resolved huge problems of women empowerment, rural employment, milk production, malnutrition and availability of milk for urban and rural population at large! Replication of that very model pan India in 176 districts in 25 years made India the largest milk producers of milk in the world.
Dr. Kurien used to tell us that it is possible to produce Kuriens, but there is no ‘college’ in the world to produce Tribhuvandas! Give me one Tribhuvandas and you will get a Kurien!
I had little opportunity to directly work with Tribhuvandas. But I would like to narrate a few incidents.
As an employee of Amul, I never went to wish or greet Tribhuvandas on any occasion like Diwali or New Year. Many people did but I hadn’t. If I happen to pass by when he would be in car, he would not expect one to bow or wish him. And if you don’t he would rather appreciate!
Way before attending any of these events, while I had just joined Amul in the purchase department in 1971, someone approached me regarding purchase of a stationery item. I believed it wasn’t necessary and I refused straightway. No sooner had the man left; a clerk came to me and said, “How did you refuse him? He is Praful bhai, the son of Tribhuvandas.” Now, I was all new and fresh out of college and I asked him, “Who is Tribhuvandas”. The Clerk said he is our chairman. I in turn asked him “What does the Chairman mean?” The clerk had no answer.
Just about the time I was appointed as Managing Director of GCMMF, one afternoon Tribhuvandas happened to come to the GCMMF office and was waiting in car while talking to Sri Jaswantlal Shah, former Chairman of Baroda dairy, a close friend of Tribhuvandas and a great Gandhian himself. As I was returning to the office from lunch, Jaswantlal Shah waved and called me. And then facing Tribhuvandas he said, “it was a good decision to appoint BM as MD of GCMMF”. Tribhuvandas very politely said “Jaswantlal you are now 84, but your language still needs to be rectified! We have not made him the Managing Director, it is his work that has made him”.
In his last few days when he was admitted to the hospital, I felt like going and seeing him. So same evening around 8 pm, after work, I paid a visit to the hospital. He was alone in the room resting and Mani ben was sitting outside with some relatives. I went inside, the light was quite dim. No sooner had I reached near Tribhovandas, he said, “ has B M Vyas come?” And then started telling me about the war of independence. In particular he told me there was one freedom fighter called Madhav Pandya. He was so dedicated to the cause, that he did not take care of his family and is now no more. His grand children are living in very poor condition. He asked me, “Would you recruit one of his grandson as a peon, or an attendant? Just so that he can feed the family”.
I was quite shocked! Here is a man, a great national hero, a real gandhian, on his deathbed and instead of talking about his health or pain; he talked straight to point as if he was expecting me! That was the first and the last thing Tribhovandas ever asked me. That too for a freedom fighter who sacrificed his life for the independence of the nation, while unfortunately neglecting his family duties.
In 1984, Tribhuvandas was in Chennai to attend Indian Dairy Association Annual conference and as we were staying in same hotel I used to help him due to his age. Once while travelling, he mentioned “when you were transferred to GCMMF from Amul Dairy, Dr. Kurien before issuing the transfer letter asked me about you and in turn, I asked my son Praful. On hearing your name Praful narrated the stationery incident and he appreciated your attitude. He told me that we need an upright officer. I gave the same feedback to Kurien.”
It is pertinent to point out that both Praful bhai and Tribhuvandas had the same mindset and even after being in a powerful position, they though of the organization’s interest.
Another incident is 2001-02, when we were reviewing our 10-year plan for GCMMF. We had arrived at a gap in milk drying capacity (to dry milk into powder) and we had the options to install 3x30mtd plants, 2x60mtd plant or only one of 100mtd. By this time we had decided to launch milk in Delhi so instead of installing a 200mtd drying plant we wanted only 100mtd capacity. I presented to Dr. Kurien and said we would like to put a state of art spray drying plant at an outlay of Rs. 70 crores and that too ourselves. We will create a project team and execute the project on our own. I explained Dr. Kurien for 5 minutes on why we wanted to go for a 100mtd plant. Just as I completed my reasoning, he said, “Go ahead”. I included that proposal for a formal board approval. Even in board meeting, as I finished explaining the rational, for 5 minutes the board cleared the proposal. I was amazed at their clarity of purpose, their faith in our team and entrepreneurship.
Much later, I was travelling with Dr. Kurien and I asked him how did he agree to such a massive expansion in less than 5 minutes? He smiled and said, “when we were to install our first ever spray-drying powder plant to dry buffalo milk into powder, it had been taken to the board in 1955. Tribhuvandas took 5 minutes to approve! Tribhovandas was not a dairy engineer and the farmers co-operative union was too small to risk such capital expenditure then, but he had tremendous faith in farmers and his professional managers.”
I had been on the board of several public and private companies, but I rarely saw such clarity in decision-making and such risk taking abilities.
Be it Tribhuvandas Patel, the founding Chairman of Amul, Moti bhai Chaudhary of Mehsana Dairy, Jaswantlal Shah of Baroda dairy or Tulsi Rao of Vishakha dairy, they all represented the spirit of Tribhovandas in real sense.
Tribhuvandas Patel was the one who sculpted Dr. Kurien and also implanted the spirit of cooperation in his heart and through him, in all of us. We need a hand full of Tribhuvandas to enable such Kuriens to perform! India needs them the most in days ahead.