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How Ramdev’s business empire benefits from his proximity to the BJP

‘Patanjali inked a deal with the Uttarakhand government for procuring 5,000 litres of cow urine every month.’ And other gems.

Ramdev has always been an ardent supporter of the BJP, and the party even acknowledged the importance of the role played by his countrywide campaign launched ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. An RTI response has revealed that Patanjali Ayurved had donated a sum of Rs 1,100,000 on 8 March 2009 to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – then in the Opposition. In a newspaper interview he claimed that he had predicted six months before the 2014 general elections that the NDA would come to power with nearly 300 seats under Modi’s leadership.

“The role played by Ramdev in awakening the voters is similar to the struggles of Mahatma Gandhi and Jayprakash Narayan who stayed away from power. He has no greed for any post...His motto is to strengthen the system. Ramdev’s campaign against black money and corruption is similar to those of Mahatma Gandhi and Jayprakash Narayan,” Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in public after BJP’s victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

BJP president Amit Shah has publicly thanked the yoga guru for his sustained campaign, which “contributed significantly to the formation of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.”

Shah did not mince words when he said that all of Ramdev’s future endeavours to save Indian languages and literature and to revive yoga and ayurveda, which had the capacity to create a disease-free universe, would get all the support from the government.

The yoga guru has also been extremely generous in his praise of Shah, who is considered to be the most trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Modi. “I have seen Amit Shah at close quarters – be it his personal relationships or his political thought. While most people have only seen his hard side, I’ve met him innumerable times and have never seen him angry. When he speaks about his hopes and aspirations for the country, its past achievements, the direction of its future, he gets lost in his thoughts on how to take it forward. Whenever it comes to the country, he’s the softest person, ready to do whatever he can to aid it. For him, politics is not a business; he is not a man chasing any political berth or position. He’s committed to an ideal,” Ramdev said in an interactive programme with The Indian Express.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, there has been a shower of perks and honour since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014 and in several other states afterwards.

Apart from state governments offering him lands to set up factories, herbal parks, universities, schools and cowsheds, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari even offered him an island in the Andamans to set up a yoga resort.

In November 2014, he was provided with Z-category security by the Central government, taking into account his “vulnerability to attacks from his opponents”. Ramdev had already been entitled to Z-category security only within the jurisdiction of Uttarakhand as per a decision of the State government.

Nearly a year after he was given Z-category security, the Centre granted paramilitary security cover to his yoga ashram and food park in Haridwar. The Union government deployed 35 armed CISF personnel at Patanjali Food and Herbal Park Private Limited in Haridwar. The move assumes significance as CISF cover is very sparingly granted to the private sector. The food park is the eighth private unit to be guarded by the paramilitary force after it was first mandated for such tasks in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

According to officials, the security arrangement costs Patanjali approximately Rs 40 lakh per annum. The company also provides all logistical facilities – barracks, armoury and vehicles – to CISF at its own cost. The CISF commando squad is headed by an assistant commandant rank officer and will be deployed on a “quick reaction team” pattern, which entails stationing them in vantage positions. The routine entry and exit to the food park and the ashram is regulated by the staff and private security hired by Patanjali.

The Modi government has given a big push to the Patanjali products manufactured by Ramdev’s vast business establishment by ordering that these be stocked by the government-run Kendriya Bhandars.

In August 2016, the Defence Research and Development Organisation announced that it would tie up with Patanjali Yogpeeth to market herbal supplements and food products made by the organisation. Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram said that he would collaborate with Ramdev to develop solutions to end malnutrition.

The Madhya Pradesh government has decided to put up for sale Patanjali products at fair price shops across the state. “On the suggestion of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the products of Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali will be put for sale at the fair price shops in the state,” said Minister of State for Cooperatives Vishwas Sarang.

Since the BJP came to power in 2014, the cow has emerged as one of the strongest symbols in India. Some self-styled nationalists have made it their day job to protect the cows from perceived threats from those who don’t worship the cows. These people have gone to the extent of physically attacking anyone who they feel can pose a threat to cows.

Ramdev certainly doesn’t belong to this group, but the cow has often defined his socio-political philosophy and business. “The cow, which is our mother, has been neglected in our country and it is high time that she got due attention,” says Ramdev.

This Makar Sankranti, Patanjali took its “Save the Cow” movement to a new height by launching a floor cleaner called Gonyle.

Being marketed as an alternate to the disinfectant Phenyl, it is made from cow urine, eucalyptus oil, pine oil, lemon grass and anti-bacterial herbs. The print advertisement for the product read: “Stop punishing your hands with chemical-based phenyl. On the occasion of Holy Makar Sankranti, join the movement to save the cow, our holy mother, by embracing Gonyle because mere sloganeering would not suffice to serve this mission. Let’s take a small initiative to free our motherland from the stigma of cow slaughtering. Adopt Gonyle and prohibit the cows from being taken to slaughter houses.”

In 2008, the BJP government in Uttarakhand had given its nod to Patanjali for setting up a cow research institute. In 2017, the state-of-the-art research institute is likely to come up in Haridwar, which will focus on breeding cows. Ramdev claims it will be first of its kind in the country that will breed cows of international standards.

“Our desi breed of cows will give milk up to 60 litres a day. Our goal is to end the monopoly of foreign cattle that presently farmers prefer because of their capacity to produce 50–60 litres of milk a day. Our institute will also double up as the biggest cow shelter in India,” says Ramdev. Patanjali will invest Rs 500 crore on four mega shelters for cows across India. And his target is clear even before he has entered the market. “Why should a Nestlé make profit out of Indian cows?”

As usual he makes concession to the desi brands. “We have no problem with Amul or any other domestic organisation, but who is Nestlé to sell milk in our country considering the farms, farmers and cattle are all ours?” he thunders. Ghee made of cow’s milk is one of the largest selling products of Patanjali Ayurved, which currently sources the milk from elsewhere.

And cow is not only about milk. Ramdev claims that the urine of desi cow varieties is capable of curing many kinds of diseases, including cancer. In 2008, Patanjali inked a deal with the Uttarakhand government for procuring 5,000 litres of cow urine every month. According to media reports, more than 2 lakh litres of the same – and an average of 3,000 litres per month at Rs 25 per litre – have been supplied to it till now.

But the business of cow urine has also landed Patanjali in trouble.

A Tamil Nadu-based Muslim organisation, The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamat (TNTJ), issued a fatwa against Patanjali products because they allegedly contained cow urine. According to TNTJ, cow urine is “haram” for Muslims. Balkrishna countered the allegation by stating that only five products made by the firm – Godhan Ark, Sanjivani Vati, Panchgavya Soap, Kayakalp Oil and Shudhi Phenyal – contain cow urine. While Sanjivani Vati is used in the treatment of chronic fever, cold and cough, Panchgavya soap is said to cure skin ailments.

Excerpted with permission from The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon: From Moksha to Market, Kaushik Deka, Rupa Publications.

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