Should we only use Patanjalis products
India: Instant noodles with nationalism
The CEO takes his trademark pose. His bare, hairy belly arches inward, so far that a hole is created, and his chest muscles arch forward. He breathes in, sucks air into his body for seconds, he breathes out, slowly and deeply. "Ooooom," calls the CEO into his headset, he sits cross-legged on a stage at the head of a huge sports hall, wears an orange-red scarf around his hips, a black-gray shaggy beard, ponytail. The name of the CEO: Baba Ramdev. He is one of the most prominent yoga gurus in India. His name stands for the unity of body and mind.
And Ramdev is a prominent entrepreneur, he is co-owner of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, more than one billion US dollars in annual sales, over 30,000 employees, more than 2,500 products. Toothpaste, herb puree, lentil flour, clarified butter, hair oil, digestive pills - Patanjali makes everything Indian households need. Compared to the international consumer giants Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, which dominate the Indian market, Patanjali is a dwarf. But the dwarf is developing rapidly. Patanjali is the fastest growing consumer goods manufacturer in the country.
The saint as an entrepreneur
A holy man who rakes in millions as an entrepreneur, that seems like a contradiction. Hindu gurus live like Christian monks, renounce all possessions, renounce all worldly goods. At least officially. Ramdev is not the first guru to merge spirituality and capitalism. As early as the 1980s, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was not only helping millions of people around the world find meaning. Most of all, Bhagwan helped himself to a luxury life.
The seat of Patanjali is near Haridwar, translated as 'gate to God', one of the seven holy cities of the Hindus. Patanjali is a building complex in Beigerosa, spread over an area the size of a small town, with the Department of Yoga Science above the entrance door of the largest building.
In an office on the first floor, behind a massive desk, in front of shelves full of books, pictures, figures of gods, is sitting Balkrishna, Patanjali's manager, wearing a white cloth robe. "Sales and profit were never important to us," he says. "We focus solely on people's needs. We develop products that help them lead a better life." Balkrishna speaks quickly and smiles a lot.
Balkrishna owns 98.5 percent of Patanjali shares, he is in the top 100 richest Indians, estimated fortune 2.2 billion US dollars, Ramdev officially does not own anything. The yogi is the face of the company, researcher Balkrishna is the strategist. Their story begins in 1965: Ramdev was born the son of a farmer in Saidalipur, a dusty village in the northern state of Haryana. As a teenager he learned yoga from a book and lived for years in the solitude of the Himalayan forests. There he meets Balkrishna, the son of immigrants from Nepal. The two study the ancient scriptures of Hinduism, collect medicinal herbs from which they make traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and sell them in a corrugated iron shed. In 2006 they founded Patanjali, named after the great father of yoga of the same name.
20 kilometers southeast of Patanjali headquarters, a complex of factory and office buildings. The company produces at 50 locations in India, the factory at Haridwar is the largest. 16,000 people work here, company buses drive through the villages early in the morning and collect the workers, and in the evening the reverse tour. Under a tin roof, workers feed glowing stoves with wood, grind shimmering stones into dust, stir kettles with silvery liquids. "Our Ayurvedic medicine department," explains Balkrishna. Inside a labyrinth of systems, assembly lines, high shelves, computers. Machines fill bottles, bags, tubes, men press buttons on machines, women pack boxes with bottles, bags, tubes.
At Patanjali, Ayurveda articles only make up a fraction of the range. The majority are classic global consumer goods: corn flakes, muesli, ketchup, but also clothing. Ramdev and Balkrishna oppose the market power of the multinationals with their own strategy. Success factor number one: the price. Patanjali is up to 40 percent cheaper than its big competitors. Success factor number two: market presence. Patanjali is everywhere, in supermarkets, village kiosks, in online shops, in its own small franchise stores, an Indian corner shop that no other consumer goods manufacturer operates. Success factor number three: the boss himself. Ramdev shows simple yoga exercises in his own television show every morning from 6.45 am to 7.05 am.
Only buy locally produced products in order to become economically independent as a state, the idea originally came from India's freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. The production and wearing of a simple cotton material, the khadi, was supposed to secure work for the Indians and make them independent of imports from the British colonial rulers. 'Swadeshi' - 'one's own country', was the name of the movement of economic nationalism, the khadi became a symbol of resistance and change. He did not bring India any economic success.
Ramdev and Balkrishna do it differently. "Nationalism, Ayurveda and Yoga are our pillars", they proclaim on the company website. It is the course that India's right-wing government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking. The 1.3 billion-inhabitant country should be strong and independent as in the centuries before it was used as a colony by the British. Make India great again. And Modi wants even more: Products 'Made in India' should conquer the global market, the country should become the third largest economy in the world after China and the USA.
Merged with politics
Modi had promised the Indians radical economic reforms and the eradication of ubiquitous corruption. So far he has not realized any of this. Since Modi came to power, Patanjali has got building land at bargain prices, the state is building access roads for new plants, an anti-terrorist unit of the police protects company sites, the Indian army canteens cook with Patanjali products. Modi classified yoga as a charity and founded a ministry for Ayurveda and Yoga, it establishes the traditional methods in the state health system and decides on the approval of new Ayurveda products.
Patanjali creates jobs, builds schools and health centers, Ramdev praises the government, appears at events of radical Hindu organizations, Modi and his party BJP iron out criticism of Patanjali and Ramdev. The BJP is considered the party of the elites, Ramdev's Jedermann-Yoga and the cheap Patanjali products are popular among the growing middle class and the lower classes of society. The head of government and the corporate boss, it's a give and take, the relationship is going well. Economy, religion, politics - in Patanjali everything merges into a new kind of unit. And Ramdev is a new type. More powerful than any economic boss. More powerful than any politician. More powerful than any guru.
As Ramdev sits on the stage of the huge sports hall, a young woman stands next to him, one of his yoga students. "There was a time when our country was in darkness," she calls into the hall. "There was a lot of corruption, the youth went the wrong way. Then someone came who brought us the light. Someone who taught us to love our country. He inspires us, he is the hope we have." Ramdev gets up, smiles and applauds, the girl kneels in front of him, touching his feet with her forehead and fingertips. "Bharat mata ki jai! Bharat mata ki jai!" Ramdev exclaims, clenching his right hand into a fist. "Victory of Mother India! Victory of Mother India!"
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