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Review: The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon by Kaushik Deka 

Baba Ramdev’s journey is as exceptional as the enterprise he has created.

books Updated: Oct 20, 2017 22:12 IST
Sudhirendar Sharma
Sudhirendar Sharma
Hindustan Times
yoga guru,FMCG,nationalism
Baba Ramdev at a function at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.(HT Photo)

Chance opportunities and trivial advantages can make a lot of initial difference to any initiative. It can even convert unobtrusive action into a potential business opportunity. That is what explains the prodigious journey of Baba Ramdev, from a small time yoga guru to a big time business brand. Everything seemed to have worked in his favour, from his unstinted faith in the curative powers of yoga to his innate desire for promoting collective good, as he packaged health care and spirituality into a marketable product worth over Rs 10,000 crore. Its phenomenal rise has turned out to be the most disruptive force in the consumer market.

How could a yoga guru derail the bandwagon of established consumer brands? How has the detached guru become a phenomenon in the world of profit? More by default than design, the breath control exercises were positioned as a quick fix antidote to fast-moving-consumer-ailments like diabetes, obesity, and blood pressure that helped the yoga guru build a vast middle income constituency troubled by mounting medical bills. The healing crusade was bound to prosper as the 30-minute breath control exercises appealed to those who sought health care without frequenting doctors.

What began as an instinctive move to demystify age-old yogic practices ended up capturing the collective psyche of health conscious people across the country! The evidence-based real-life stories beamed through television spurred demand for cheap Ayurvedic formulations. Television, indeed, created a springboard for the high-profile yoga guru to build a huge spiritual enterprise. Control over the airwaves connected him to the world of marketing and finance; the new links created political economies that support and sustain such enterprises. The remarkable journey of the yoga guru is as exceptional as the enterprise he has created.

The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon captures the incredible journey of school drop-out Ram Kishen who became the irresistible Yoga Guru Ramdev. With a current strength of 10 lakh active followers, brand Patanjali aims to clock sales of Rs 40,000 crore by 2018-19, and reach an imposing figure of Rs 100,000 crore by 2020. Given that the entire packaged consumer products market in the country is an estimated Rs 3.2 lakh crore a year, and that brand Patanjali sales have more than doubled each year, garnering a significant share of the market may not be improbable for India’s buzziest brand. Operating at 10 per cent profit margin, as opposed to 20 per cent for most other brands, brand Patanjali is out to invert the consumer product market anytime soon.

Other than astute upmanship and smart business acumen, what was it that worked in favour of brand Patanjali that other leading brands find hard to emulate? Three aspects are worth taking note of: first, much before launching its ayurvedic and herbal products, Baba Ramdev had created an assured market of committed consumers; second, it capitalized on consumer desire by marketing tradition as a product of modern convenience; and third, by courting controversies frequently, Baba Ramdev has continued to remain in the mind space of his followers.

Baba Ramdev on The World Peace & Harmony Conclave at NSCI, Worli in Mumbai, on August 13, 2017. ( Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo )

Easy to read, Kaushik Deka provides a racy narrative on the early life of the yoga guru, and his subsequent rise, rise and rise as a brand that is usurping a lion’s share of the packaged consumer products market. That it is doing so to end the hegemony of multinational companies has evoked feelings of national pride among its loyalists. Having risen from the grassroots with hands-on experience, both Baba Ramdev and his associate Acharya Balkrishana are trained to engage in the entire production process, and therefore offer their moral and spiritual responsibility for every product produced by Patanjali. This lends additional credibility for their products in the market.

With the market for herbal and ayurvedic products growing, and competition in the packaged consumer products becoming cut-throat, it will be interesting to see how long Patanjali can hold its place in the market on the strength of its emotional nationalistic appeal. That Baba Ramdev has successfully created a niche for brand Patanjali in the social and political landscape of the country is one part of the story; how far can yogic practices continue to backstop its growing business model is another. It would be interesting to see if brand Ramdev can defy the dictum ‘What goes up must come down’?

First Published: Oct 20, 2017 22:11 IST