If one were to ask me what I think of Baba Ramdev, my one-word answer would be – MAVERICK. He is an unscrupulous show man, never shies away from controversy and loves his fights. Baba Ramdev´s mass appeal and clout is such that even the BJP-led government is unlikely to antagonise him, especially since elections to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly are due in 2017. A wrong signal from him could spoil the party’s chances in the crucial elections. That apart, if a similar question is raised to me on what I think of him as an entrepreneur ? or what I think of the relative quality of the products from Patanjali Ayurved Ltd (that sells everything from noodles to shampoos), my answer will not be just a simple “positively good” but rather a roaring superlative. Why would I pronounce such a blasphemy ?
This fiscal, Patanjali is set to have a revenue of Rs 5,000 crore, more than Colgate, or GlaxoSmithKline, or Emami. India Infoline (IIFL), a brokerage, has forecasted for Patanjali, a revenue at Rs 20,000 crore by 2020, almost two thirds of what Hindustan Unilever achieved last year ever since its founding in 1888 !!!. It is no secret that Patanjali has successfully disrupted various distinct multinational fiefdoms in India. He has emerged as a single major threat to a wide swathe of companies from P&G, Colgate and Unilever to Nestlé Rickett Benkiser, Dabur, Emami, Marico, Godrej and others with his arsenal of 500+ products. And his growth, in all honesty, I confess is impressive. In the last three months alone, the Baba Ramdev-backed FMCG firm has leased 1.2 million sqft of modern warehousing space across 20 top cities and will ramp this up to over 2 million sq ft by end of fiscal !. In a short time, it appears, the said maverick has proved to be an exceptional Indian businessman and an entrepreneur par excellence. While his products may not destroy every consumer goods maker in India, some, especially the international MNCs may get hit more than the others.
As Patanjali expands however, it is only natural that these MNCs cannot remain mute spectators as the maverick-Baba snatches their market share from them. His commercial rivals are leaving no stone unturned to find ways to stop his juggernaut. However, many of them simply do not choose to do so “openly”, because of the fear that it will bring them in confrontation with the Centre. Instigating NGOs, religious groups and sponsored watchdogs to constantly raise issues in the media, especially those related to the quality of Patanjali products has been a visible strategy in the last two years, ever since they took notice of him. A south-based religious group has already cautioned its members against using Patanjali products because they contain cow’s urine !.
As one does observe few individual issues “constructed” on the quality of his products, let us for benefit of doubt assume them to be true. Yet, it has, still in no way equalled the junk several MNCs have covertly dumped into the Indian market. Last year, Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had raised questions regarding the objectionably high content of pesticides in Pepsi and Coca Cola and noted that the cola majors were flouting Beaureu of Indian Standards (BIS) on the strength of powerful lobbies, brand value and humungous advertising budgets and encouraging corruption in BIS and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Simply put, Pathanjali products may not be the best in the world but are definitely way better than the quality of similar products international MNC firms have to offer in India. He may be no saint but he definitely is lesser of an evil. The question then one asks oneself is how has this maverick achieved this competitive quality in products ?
Because Baba Ramdev has cleverly appropriated for himself the label of Yoga and Ayurveda, he has pocketed the trust of his ever-expanding followers, making base marketing not a serious financial headache – it simply happens for him through the “Baba Effect”. So, his group of companies tends to invest less heavily in bulk-hiring MBAs or “Digital Ninjas”, and re-allocates such funds on hiring specific experts in the field (with an excessive preference given to PhDs). In the comfort of a base-market, and with an obsession for “pure subject experts” he seems to have earned a certain advantage during product development. I must admit, on this count, he seem to be cutting corners.
Recently, true to his typical maverick motif, Ramdev daringly mocks his competitors to declare. “Pantene ka to pant gila hone wala hai, aur do saal me Unilever ka lever kharab ho jayega” and in days “The Economic Times” candidly admits that Patanjali will shut the gate in Colgate and make Nestle’s bird disappear. While one may not approve of his maverick style or the way he sells yoga or religion or even does Tele-evangelism, one needs to recognize that he has become an exceptionally successful Indian entrepreneur, more successful than most of today´s giant Indian business house-holds. It appears he is definitely a maverick – but nevertheless a maverick who seem to be always above and beyond the averages. In my personal analysis of the responses he evokes in Indian society, I can confidently vouch: either you will admire him for his accomplishments over the MNCs with his arsenal of India-made products, or you will be disgusted by his “Baba Image” antics and will enjoy viciously making digs at him . Individual perceptions apart, the larger note for Indians today is – common sense calls for it that we must learn to both mock the man AND praise the enterpreneur – an “AND” not an “OR”.