Messiah of the masses



April 2017

Ever since Baba Ramdev burst upon the scene in 2003, he has taken the country by storm in one area after another, making him nothing less than a phenomenon, says Punya Srivastava

It was in the year 2003 that a saffron-clad ascetic with a wiry frame and overflowing black beard sat behind lakhs of TV screens, contorting his lean body into various folds, and jiggling his elastic stomach, while a stunned nation sat gaping at this spectacle. There are millions of yoga teachers, but it needed Baba Ramdev to catalyse the nation into embracing yoga. Nor did he stop there. His instant and electric popularity has made him a messiah of the masses, exhorting them to return to Indian culture and traditions.

His credentials include simplifying yoga asanas and pranayama for the masses, bringing ayurveda to innumerable households, establishing modern-day gurukuls, and creating a wave of swadeshi through Patanjali Ayurveda. From yog- shivirs in Haridwar to yoga demos in the Buckingham Palace, Baba Ramdev has done it all. His sinewy persona demystified yoga and stripped it of its esoterism, making it completely accessible to one and all. The evidence is stark. Public parks are populated with people performing breathing exercises like anulom-vilom, kapaal bhaati and bhastrika early in the mornings, half the middle class in the country sits glued to their television-sets copying his asanas or listening to his discourses on ayurveda. Film actors like Shilpa Shetty and Amitabh Bachchan are said to have learnt yoga from him.

Born as Ramakrishna Yadav in Mahendragarh, Haryana, in 1965, he suffered from a paralytic attack on the left half of his body as a two-and- a-half- year-old toddler. This, he claims to have cured through yoga after he met his first guru, Acharya Baldev, in the gurukul of Jind, Haryana, and started learning Sanskrit and yoga at the age of 14. He did his post graduation and then an indepth study on Indian scriptures at the Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya, Haridwar. He got his deeksha in 1995 from Swami Shankaradev and formed Divya Yog Mandir Trust in 1996 in Haridwar. In 2003 he stormed the nation through his television stint and within three years, in 2006, he founded Patanjali Yogapeeth in Haridwar. There was a time when he and Acharya Balkrishna would prepare ayurvedic medicines themselves – from procuring raw materials to packaging them. Today, Patanjali clinics are scattered across most of north and central India and Divya Yog Pharmacy supplies are in constant demand. His ambitious dream project of Patanjali Ayurved Limited is an extension of his ideology of ensuring holistic wellness for all.

His vociferous support for a holistic way of life – rooted in Indian ethos – garnered him a huge following, especially in the Hindi speaking regions of the country. In one of his previous interviews, he remarked, “I talk about yoga and pranayama and, inbetween, try to connect people with our culture. A person’s health is directly connected with his thought process. To remain healthy, a person must have a healthy thought process regarding his or her self, economy, family, society and nation. I try to enhance this very thought process by talking about our culture and tradition.”

It is this Be Indian, Buy Indian philosophy that he parlayed into Patanjali Ayurveda Limited (PAL), which has become nothing less than a swadeshi movement. Established in 2006, with his close aid Acharya Balkrishna at the helm of its affairs, the company has gradually become a threat to almost all the listed FMCG mutlinational companies in the country today. According to Baba Ramdev, PAL's financial success is because its swadeshi philosophy has resonated with the masses. “Whenever an objective becomes a mass movement, people get involved with it and back it with all their hearts,” he says, adding, “We have raised the swadeshi movement from the ground to the sky. Big companies in their boardrooms are now discussing Patanjali and are chalking out strategies on how to compete with us. But we don’t have any competition.” He maintains that while for these MNCs, their biggest point of focus is marketing and advertising, PAL's is to consistently come out with worldclass quality products.

The dynamic duo: Acharya Balkrishna and Baba Ramdev

Patanjali Ayurveda's products have stormed the retail market and are flying off the shelves. Apparently, PAL's desi ghee is their topmost selling product followed by their toothpaste and haircare products. Baba Ramdev's credibility has rubbed off on his products, convincing the consumer about their wholesome properties. “The existing brands are fooling people. For instance, so many of them have come up with non-sticky hair oil. How can oil be non-sticky, and why would anyone want to use such an oil? Our aim is to free the country from the hegemony of such MNCs and their implicit looting of the country's wealth; we want to restore our country's economic freedom,” he said in one of his television interviews.

According to recent figures, some of PAL's products have left the competition far behind. PAL garnered a turnover of Rs 5,000 crores in the fiscal year 2016, and has estimated its next turnover projection as Rs 10,000 crores. Isn't it astounding to see a mere 10-year- old company, with no corporate background, garnering such immense popularity that at times its supply is unable to keep up with the demand?

The reason for PAL's remarkable popularity depends to a great extent on the company's holistic management philosophy. According to their sources, Patanjali Ayurveda works on a no-profit basis, i.e., any profit they made goes to charity, while a small part is put back in the business for expansion purposes. Baba Ramdev, the brand ambassador of PAL, and CEO Acharya Balkrishna do not take any salary. Even the employees are paid moderate salaries, as, according to Baba, “they work with the aim to serve the country. We are spiritual professionals.” Apparently, PAL's senior professionals are encouraged to maintain sanctity in their professional as well personal lives, for according to Baba Ramdev, there is no separation between the two.

Their advertising cost is comparatively lower than that of other players, and since the motive is to encourage healthy and traditional products, PAL's products are much cheaper than that of the competition. Moreover, PAL directly sources from the farmers, in the process reviving and supporting their local produce. For instance, amla and aloe-vera farmers were facing huge losses before they tied up with Patanjali Ayurveda, and the latter came up with indigenous amla and aloe vera juice and aloe vera face pack.

“India has so many opportunities. We can become the world’s largest manufacturing hub, the world’s largest service providers, the world’s biggest education hub, the world’s largest health hub and tourism hub. We have prosperity in all fields, and yet there’s so much emptiness. People should have the courage and take steps forward. I am doing all this as I don’t have any other work than work itself. By putting money and prestige on the line, we continue to work for a system that instills courage in people,” he said in an interview to the web portal, Business Line.

However, PAL's success is just one aspect of Baba Ramdev's holistic model. His mission is to bring back people to a more authentic and natural way of living, traditionally practised in our country. The latest in this direction is the vanaprastha ashram (a kind of retirement home) he has come up with in Haridwar under the aegis of Patanjali Yogapeeth Trust for people above 50 years of age. This community living space is supplied with all the facilities for a comfortable, no-frills lifestyle, and residents are encouraged to volunteer their time and efforts for various administrative activities of the trust.

Having sparked off so many initiatives, and with clearly no end in sight, Baba Ramdev has actually changed this country in many significant ways. What a glowing proof that a MBA degree is not a prerequisite to success.

 

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