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India Inc, be afraid! Baba Ramdev could be the next Tata or Ambani of India

In just 10 years, Ramdev's Patanjali Ayurved has grown from a small ayurvedic pharmacy to a giant-slayer in the FMCG sector.

, ET Online|
Jul 15, 2017, 03.49 PM IST
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who has drilled fear into multinational companies by successfully expanding his ayurvedic pharmacy business to FMCG sector, is venturing into a new territory: private security.

Though the Rs 40,000 crore-worth private-security industry in India is hardly a preserve of big companies, corporate leaders still need to feel fear. Ramdev’s new foray indicates he is game to rush into an unrelated business and, as his track record suggests, can give the biggies a run for their money. In just 10 years, his Patanjali Ayurved has grown from a small ayurvedic pharmacy to a giant-slayer in the FMCG sector. If Ramdev’s new venture meets with success, who knows he can even get into, say, telecom, tomorrow. Imagine a Ramdev smartphone that comes loaded with yoga videos, health tips and ayurvedic remedies.

Possibilities are endless for Patanjali because it is already the biggest home-grown brand in India, unusual for one that sold only ayurvedic drugs just five years ago. In a recent study by global research firm Ipsos, Patanjali ranked fourth among the top 10 influential brands in India, below Google, Microsoft and Facebook. It beat biggest bank SBI, telecom leader Airtel, disruptor Reliance Jio and storied internet retailer Flipkart.

Ramdev’s entrepreneurial genius combined with his huge mass following is a big challenge to corporate India. He has carved out for himself an entirely new segment of loyal customers who would buy whatever he offers due to his carefully crafted image—a televangelist promoting yoga and ayurveda, a religious guru, a health campaigner fighting big companies, especially multinationals, and a crusader against corruption.

Association of ‘Brand Ramdev’ with tradition, health, spirituality, justice and patriotism ensures a vast base of committed customers. His backward-caste background gives him a wide acceptance among the lower classes, especially in the Hindi heartland. That’s why even though he has backed right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the RSS, various parties opposed to right-wing politics have courted him at different times.

In India, which has been built on socialist ideology, the masses have a general distrust towards big business, especially multinational companies. After Mahatma Gandhi, whose alternative to capitalism was a utopian village-based spinning-wheel economy, Ramdev presents another ‘swadeshi’ alternative which is credible and works: a not-for-profit enterprise that swears by nationalism, tradition, health and spirituality.

Ramdev’s potent mixture of right-wing politics and business could be more than what his rival corporate India can handle if he keeps expanding into new territories.

Mixing of politics and business is a global trend today. The boom in craft products in the west is a good example of how consumers prefer to align their consumption with their politics. Liberal politics in the west has converted hand-made, ethical and craft products—from beer and cheese to home accessories—into big business.

Ramdev chose private security as his next business foray not just because it is a booming sector today; it also sits well with his brand that thrives on nationalism. He is not shy of announcing the nationalist sentiment behind his new venture. According to a statement released by the yoga guru, the company’s aim is to “instill patriotic fervour among youngsters and create an ambience conducive for physical and mental development of the trainees”. With terror and India’s inimical neighbours Pakistan and China becoming part of the nation’s daily discourse today, Ramdev’s venture is timely.

Also, a private security business will give his brand a unique force multiplier. Thousands of security guards spread all over India will certainly be seen as his brand ambassadors.

It is not unimaginable that Ramdev rides the huge nationalist wave sweeping India to eventually become the next Tata or Ambani, and create a new business template for other religious gurus—the cow capitalism where consumers are offered products steeped in the goodness of tradition, spirituality and patriotism.

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