December 15, 1990

Sardar Patel University

Sardar Patel University

Convocation Address


V Kurien


National Dairy Development Board

33rd Annual Convocation

December 15, 1990

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ramniklal Doshi, Members of the Senate of the Sardar Patel University, Members of the Faculty, Alumni and Students of the University, Ladies and Gentlemen…

I find myself in what is, for me, the happy situation of filling for your original commencement speaker. It is a happy situation for me because of my profound respect for the man who inspired this university, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the opportunity to speak to you of his many contributions. I am also pleased to be with you as it affords the chance to speak to you about education, one of our most important priorities. Having had something to do with the Gujarat Agriculture University, the selection of Vice Chancellors and such, it has been possible for me to view education at close quarters and to form some conclusions about its aims and objectives. This address provides me with the opportunity to share some of those thoughts with you.

Before I speak on the subject of education, however, let me turn first to how it is that this place became the first in our country to have a rural university. It was, quite simply, the result of the vision of Sardar Patel and his ability to select men of character and ability to realise that vision.

As the reality of our Independence drew near, Sardar Patel recognised that it was not simply a fruit to be enjoyed: rather, it was an opportunity which would require effort, intelligence and commitment to exploit. Sardar Patel also recognised that our people lived in our rural areas not in the cities and towns and that they, most of all, needed institutions that would serve their needs, that would equip them to build our nation.

Therefore, the farmers of Charotar would need institutions that would meet their needs. It was this inspiration that led, first, to the creation of an Institute of Agriculture, which today has evolved into the institution we know as the Gujarat Agriculture University. It was to Dr. Maganbhai Patel that the task of building this institute was entrusted.

Next to agriculture there was the need for an institution that harnessed engineering to the needs of our rural areas. Sardar Patel recognised the unique genius of an engineer who had truly practised such rural engineering. And so he persuaded Bhaikaka to leave Ahmedabad and come and stay at Vallabh Vidyanagar. Not only did Bhaikaka build an engineering college, he convinced the farmers of Charotar that they should also have a science college. This, too, was built, leading ultimately to the University from which you are graduating today.

There was one more institution inspired by Sardar Patel, one that would provide both our farmers, and their children who graduated from this university, with an opportunity to build and to serve. That institution was the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union. Here was a business, owned by our farmers, with the benefits of that enterprise returning to them, not to shareholders in distant cities. Graduates of Sardar Patel University, along with young men and women from other universities, have worked to help our farmers make the most of this enterprise.

Reflect for a moment on the genius that inspired this happy network of institutions. Sardar Patel realised that ours is a rural nation and that our future depended on the strength of our farmers. He inspired institutions that would serve the farmers economic interests as also institutions that would prepare their sons and daughters to lead those institutions in the future. Had only other parts of our nation followed a similar path, perhaps our progress would have been far greater than it has.

Sardar Pat el’s vision offers us far more, however, than a prescription for economic growth. It speaks eloquently to the real purpose of education: to create good citizens with the idealism and the skills to serve our nation. What, then, would Sardar Patel think of today’s educational system? Have we followed the path he blazed, or have we strayed far from his vision? Are we, today, producing an educated elite who will lead us to a brighter future, who will work with commitment to help those less fortunate than themselves? I fear that we are not.

I would ask those of you who will receive degrees to look for a moment into your hearts. You are part of a small privileged elite. Of those who could have entered school with you some 15 years ago, many never crossed the threshold of a class. Many more fell by the wayside as economic and other compulsions forced them to begin the effort to survive, before they were fully prepared to do so. Those of you who are here today represent a small handful of our nation, blessed both by your own efforts and by good fortune. But ask yourself, is that good fortune only for you to enjoy, or as a member of our privileged elite do you have an obligation to contribute your skills in some measure to the benefit of others.

From what I have seen, the purposes and methods of education have suffered a serious decline. For many the sole purpose of education is to get a job. The methods adopted are often not those of the scholar. In fact, can the serious scholar compete with those who buy an examination paper or bribe an examiner? Each year at examination time our newspapers are full of stories about leaks of this exam and the theft of that one. If we can believe what we read, even the civil service examination is no longer safe from such depredations. Is this, then, an educational system that is producing men and women of character, idealism and ability to build the India of our dreams?

I am told that there is a reason for this decline in our educational system and that reason is unemployment. It would seem in our country there is a problem of supply and demand: our supply of job-seekers falls far short of the demand for their services.

Despite the best efforts of our business enterprises, we produce more graduates than can be employed in making steel, building ships, constructing buildings, roads and bridges. Even producing and selling lipstick and soap seems to have its limits when it comes to creating jobs.

Our government has done its best to fill the void. We have government jobs throughout the length and breadth of India, in the village and in the South Block, and everywhere in between. There is no doubt that many of these jobs are quite attractive: they offer a salary without the onerous responsibility of work. The authority of government can often be advanced to earn a considerable additional income on the side. Perhaps for these reasons some of the very skills learned in our educational system prove useful in selection for such jobs. And perhaps this explains the tragic events that occurred when it was thought that what amounted to a few tens of thousands of such jobs might be reserved.

It is my concern with this that leads me to point out to you that not all jobs are to be found in government and industry: not even all good jobs. If I may, let me speak a bit about my own experience, if only to suggest that there are other paths to be taken.

More than four decades ago I sat, as you sit today, awaiting a degree. In those days we were an even more fortunate few who had access to a good education in modern science. It the dawn of Independence and we were full of hopes. Each of us looked forward to the chance to make a real contribution to a free India. Most important, we had learned – rich and poor alike – that by pooling resources, by standing together, we could succeed at anything. Had we not, by uniting, overthrown the awful yoke of our oppressor ?

My own expectations were raised further when I was selected as one of the 500 graduates to be sent abroad by the Government for further technical education. When I returned, a Masters degree in hand, I was confident that I was about to begin making important contributions to our new India.

You can imagine my dismay when I learned that the Government of India had posted me to work in an experimental creamery located in a dusty little town of 15,000 souls, deep in the countryside, some 400 kilometers from Bombay. While it was true that I had been sent abroad to study dairying, I had managed to combine this with a more intensive effort in metallurgical science, clearly a subject far more needed by a modern India. But, the Government was adamant: it was dairying I had been sent to study and it was dairying that I would practice – at least for as long as my indentured service lasted.

When I arrived at my posting, I discovered that the town had three landmarks: the railway station; the creamery that was in my charge; and a rather large, famous private dairy that was famous for its butter. The dairy was Poisons and, as you might have guessed, the town was Anand.

Poisons was a rather dominant enterprise in Kaira District which was, even then, a fine milkshed. During the Second World War, when Bombay faced an acute shortage of milk, Poisons was given an exclusive contract to procure and ship milk to Bombay to supply the government’s milk scheme. The contractors who procured milk for Poisons exploited the farmers of Kaira who became increasingly angry at the small share of profit that they received. Finally they had decided to go on strike and refused to supply milk to Poisons Dairy But that, by itself, would not get them a better price. In fact, it got them no price. So they went to Sardar Patel who advised them to set up a cooperative to manage their own milk business. He asked one of his young lieutenants, Shri Tribhuvandas Patel, to work with the producers and to help organise the cooperative.

One of the problems faced by the cooperative was the lack of reliable pasteurising equipment. Without it, the milk spoiled on the way to Bombay So, I advised the cooperative that it should build a small, modern pasteuring plant. At that time all such equipment had to be imported, a process that took as long then as it does now So, by the time the equipment was finally due to arrive I had managed to get relieved of my responsibilities at the creamery and was happily awaiting my return to the glamour and excitement of big city life. It was then that Tribhuvandas came to me and pointed out that having talked the cooperative into investing in an expensive piece of equipment, I was now abandoning them before it had been installed and commissioned. After negotiating for some time, we agreed that I would stay on for a few months as Manager of the cooperative until the new plant was on its feet. That few months continues until today

I have told you this story because it illustrates a very important lesson: opportunities, both big and small, come to each of us. It is up to you to pick one and to make the most of it. In my case, an opportunity I had viewed with disdain has given me far more than a job, far more than a career- it has given me a cause to live and fight for and a life filled with its struggle, and with sorrows but also with immense satisfaction.

Who could have imagined four decades ago that AMUL would be owned by 350 thousand farmers? That it would employ more than 2,000 people, including some of our country’s finest professionals? Or that it would become a household name in every corner of India?

And that’s not all. What began in Kaira District has spread to every milkshed in India and involves more than 70 lakh farmers. Today, the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union is the model for development programmes in India and around the world.

As you get ready to leave the academic life and begin your careers, look around you. Is there really an unemployment problem ? Are the only jobs those offered by government and multinationals?

I am not suggesting that each of you can, or should, choose to work for a farmer-owned enterprise. In fact, there are many drawbacks involved in working for farmers. I can tell you that they can be very demanding. If a Government veterinary doctor isn’t available, they take it for granted. However, when the veterinary doctor is the farmers’ employee, then they expect the highest standard of professionalism and commitment. It’s not a job for the lazy or the faint-hearted. It is a job for those who want the satisfaction of an important job, well done.

Our cooperatives are proving something very important: the country’s farmers do not have to live on promises. They can build institutions that meet their needs, that provide them with the best scientists, the best inputs and the best services. These institutions also offer an opportunity for our finest young men and women to work directly for and with our farmers, without the barriers of bureaucracy and free of an urban-oriented Government and all the self-protective mechanisms which our elite have constructed to preserve their privileges.

Our world is changing rapidly As you leave this university you will face life’s realities. It will be easy to adopt the cynicism and callousness that passes for sophistication these days. I would argue that this can only lead to a life of bitterness and small satisfaction. Instead, let me urge you to keep your eyes open for the real opportunities, the chance to contribute, in however small a measure, to building a strong and just nation.

Years ago fate offered me an opportunity I took that opportunity and have been rewarded beyond measure. I hope that for some of you, at least, similar opportunities will arise and that you will seize them. That some of you will recognise and accept your responsibility, as part of our nation’s fortunate few, to enter into a partnership with our rural people, helping to bridge the gulf that increasingly divides us. If a few of you – even if one of you – takes up such a challenge, then I shall feel that I have not done such a bad job today

I wish you well.