As scientists around the world join in a race to find a vaccine that would help curb the coronavirus pandemic, back home, self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev has come out with his own desi cure for the infection, which has claimed thousands of lives and devastated economies across the globe.
Named Coronil, the product is the latest of the several bizarre claims made by Patanjali Ayurved, Ramdev’s multi-crore business empire, since its inception back in 2006. As masses went into a frenzy over the magic cure, the government cracked the whip, claiming a violation of medical protocol while ordering the company halt advertisements of product pending a review.
This incident begs the larger and often raised question: how did Ramdev’s brainchild come about and what prompted its rise into one of the leading FMCGs in the country, despite the several controversies along the way?
Initially Ramdev, originally Ram Kisan Yadav, started out from live T.V. broadcasts of yoga asanas early morning on Aastha channel. Claiming to solve anything from back pain to mental health, he quickly became a household name. His daily telecasts boasted high TRPs and yoga became a form of an alternative medicine for countless health ills and a force to reckon with.
From the harmless Surya Namaskars, Ramdev sensed an opportunity to expand and gradually capitalized on the growing footfall. Based in Haridwar, a state in Uttarakhand, Divya Yoga Pharmacy and Patanjali Ayurved have emerged as game changers when it came to the consumer goods market industry.
Situated across most states, the company now, with monthly sales pegged at around ₹5 million, deals in everything from instant noodles and toothpaste to close to any household item one can think of. This, along with a wide range of medicines, potions, to even gau mutra, became the talk of the town.
However, the company has often faced a fair share of criticism for peddling bizarre claims and cures, in a bid to promote its products. Ramdev and Patanjali has, in the past, claimed having solution for even cancer and AIDS. In a fierce backlash, National AIDS Control Organisation dismissed the assertion, warning against ‘misleading’ the masses. Similarly, allegations of substandard quality of products and suspicious use of human and animal parts in its products continued to mire Ramdev’s path to success.
In the case of anti-COVID-19 drug Coronil, questions have been raised regarding the scientific methodology and the clinical trials behind the alleged cure. Besides, the licensing authority of the Uttarakhand government has even alleged that the vaccine was certified as an ‘immunity booster’ instead of what is now being claimed as a scientific breakthrough.
Despite its shady past, the company has emerged stronger each time, beating the likes of Colgate, ITC, among others. Products such as chawanprash and giloy juice have found resonance amongst Indian masses brought up on the notion of going for homemade solutions for every other medical ill.
The Patanjali juggernaut, however, has been aided by other factors in its rise to the international spotlight. Since they won the popular mandate in 2014, Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party have endorsed the mantra of promoting ‘Swadesi’ products in its markets. The Make in India initiative is one such tool to shun West-manufactured goods. Justifiably, this has coincided with the Yoga teacher-turned businessman’s ambitions.
Ramdev had previously been spotted at several BJP campaign rallies and endorsed then-candidate Modi as the PM on multiple occasions.
While frequent run-ins and fiascos are par for the course any other business venture and more so with brands as huge and influential as Ramdev and Patanjali, one cannot afford to overlook its unfettered rise and the authority it wields over the masses. A favourable environment in the form of public, which runs on patriotic fervour and chest-thumping Hindu nationalist government in power, has given Ayurveda and its proponents just the right push. The question thus arises: are the real motives behind this success story somewhere tucked inside all the fanfare. It is certainly a question worth asking. For now, gau mutra and its innumerable benefits are here to stay.