Moksha to Market I – Baba Ramdev

Why did I read this book?

I was strolling through the Indira Gandhi Delhi Airport (back from my trip to Haridwar) – I had to kill  time as my flight was delayed – when I chanced upon this book. Three major reasons why I decided to give it a shot :

  1. Patanjali’s meteoric rise in recent years has been nothing short of a miracle. The fact that a company emanating from Yogic wisdom was able to market the idea of “health” to the masses generating an turnover of INR 5000 Cr. in 2017, when multiple MNCs have failed before, is intriguing.
  2. I had worked on a campaign with P&G in 2016 to analyse the slump in sales of hair products owing to Patanjali’s rise in herbal segment. The last time an Indian homegrown player had created such a dent in the closely-knit FMCG space was ITC in 1980.
  3. I was returning from Haridwar. Seemed only poetic, to end my trip with a tale on Haridwar, Baba Ramdev’s schooling area and current Patanjali kingdom, spanning nearly 60% of Haridwar by area
Good enough reason, to immerse yourself in 182 pages of light in-flight read?

The Plot Summary

The book is primarily divided into three sections :

First part provides a biographical account of Baba Ramdev – childhood, hardships and his story to becoming Baba Ramdev from Ram Kishen. The origins of his enchantment with Yoga, Ayurveda and ancient Hindu scriptures and the subsequent making of the “Baba” from 5 to 500,000 followers

The second part captures his foraying into business world, doing justice to the book tittle of Moksha to Market. An insight into finances, operations, strategic dimensions in scaling up Patanjali to current success. The book also discusses at length the proposed additions to product portfolio, which forms an interesting read.

The third part deals with his unsuccessful dab into politics. The 2010 campaigning at Ram Lila Maidan, close affiliation to RSS and his bitter sweet relationship with Modi for over fifteen years has been highlighted. The book concludes with some minor sneak peaks into his lifestyle, acquaintance and personality

India Today Cover
The famous India Today cover story capture signalling how Baba Ramdev is turning the Indian FMCG market upside down

What are my views on the book?

The book is an insight into Baba Ramdev’s life – his life turning events as a child, not known in public purview, that shaped his decision to become the individual. He was paralysed in the age of ten, with limited hope of recovery and but a decade of Yoga gave him a second life. After that point, there was no turning back for the 10 year old.

Deka draws the distinction between Ramdev baba and other ascetics, which in my opinion was very interesting. Ramdev Baba despises the idea of nothingness and idling away years in meditation in the Himalayas. Instead, his recluse into the mountains was to actually explore the medicinal properties of native herbs and focus on Ayurveda. There are more such anecdotes, broadly drawing a portrait, of a witty, original man starkly different from the public perception of a sadhu. From a behavioural sciences   perspective, he draws motivation for collective benefit of masses through business from his insecurity that the perceived value of his occupation is sadhus can do nothing

Baba also makes a couple of interesting points – economic poverty is the result of intellectual poverty, which in turn stems from Indian youth being oblivious to ancient texts, scriptures and Ayurveda

Baba Ramdev 2
Ramdev’s transition from a fakir baba to billionaire entrepreneur. Patanjali has caused unprecedented disruption in the Indian FMCG space

Moving on to his aspirations in the business world, let’s look at some basic facts – Herbal care and Ayurveda has been growing at twice the rate of beauty and personal care segment in India 2016. This is makes them the fastest growing sector in FMCG and an extremely attractive segment to be in. Bringing in Baba Ramdev has worked favourably in reducing advertising and corporate overheads, allowing Patanjali a 25% margin before tax, compared to 20% for HUL and P&G. There are more such examples in the history of the firm.

Let’s bring in some MBA analysis to understand why is Patanjali distinctive in its domain  

  • Value Proposition :

Preaching health over religion was a differentiating factor compared to other yoga guru’s of his time. Until very late into his career, Baba Ramdev has refrained from taking any political stance, and people viewed in him a man with groundbreaking health solutions, not embroiled in heinous religious schemes

  • Brand Strength :

Baba Ramdev has been the iconic centre figure driving the product sales and Acharya Balkrishna’s the back-end wizard (Almost reminds me of the Narendra Modi – Amit Shah duo in 2014 general elections) But, diversifying and expanding portfolio into Swadeshi jeans and fertility tablets, seems like a ponzie scheme, and not a well thought of strategy.

From the Patanjali perspective, I have written a more detailed analysis on the strategies adopted by them to uproot the entrenched industry players.

politics BAba ramdev
Prime Minister Modi inaugurated Patanjali Ayurvedic Research Centre in Haridwar in May 2017

Moving ahead, the political angle marks the entree of the controversial sphere in his life. Apart from his unsuccessful stint at Ram Maidan Delhi and subsequent escape disguised as a woman, there are more innate cataclysmic events :

  1. The affiliation to RSS and propaganda about Hindu scriptures has been interpreted as extremist ideology, which goes against his unique value proposition (as discussed). Babaji has been fully aware of these implications to his brand, but yet proceeded with public endorsement of BJP/ RSS/ Modi in recent years.
  2. To a common observer, it may seem that the breakneck speed growth of Patanjali has been fuelled by the clout of his followers, ranging from chief ministers to businessman. The similarities are too blatant to be dismissed – Haryana govt. has appointed as ambassador wherein Patanjali factories have installed production capacity of 22000MT , approval permits and sale license for multiple products were awarded overnight, Patanjali Yogpeeth has been given full control of khakdi marketing etc.

The criticism that the author has invited is that over 40% of the book is public knowledge for anyone closely following news articles, interviews etc. Perhaps, there can be certain amount own veracity to this claim, as the later half traces like a chronological sequence of events. However, I disagree to say that the book is coloured by the author’s opinion on judgement of situation and not just a narration of events. The book is a fair combination of both smart ass business decisions and follies or ludicrous opinions. Most prominent of them being the idea of demanding Indian economic freedom by driving MNCs out, in contrast to Modi’s call of Make-in-India. What Baba demands is a simulation of an evanescent period of 1980s with a pro-private tilt, which ended with a ‘crisis of governability’ and represents a dark period of our history  (http://www.dailyo.in/politics/patanjali-baba-ramdev-economic-freedom-swadeshi/story/1/12386.html)

In conclusion – Baba Ramdev is an odd personality for an ascetic. He popularised Yoga as a 30 minute drill. He’s witty in his repartee. Wears his opinion on his sleeve. Makes polarising comments. Take a joke on himself. Camera-friendly. Crisp communicator. Open to the media. Chatty. Not something one would expect out of a Yoga Guru, isn’t it?But then again, he was destined to do great things to reviving Yoga. Only time will define, if he can sustain his niche in the business

Of the God-men in the country, Ramdev Baba had clearly made his mark, on the right target segment.

Bottomline: It’s a must-read. Insightful, swift and fluid.

divider3

Name: Baba Ramdev Phenomenon : Mokhsa to Market

Author: Kaushik Deka (Published in April 2017)

Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

What are some of the best lines from the book?

“One of the ways Hindu nationalism maintains itself is by highlighting its uniqueness and antiquity. The search for objects and practices of national antiquity, has been seamlessly merged with contemporary consumerism. People like Baba Ramdev have capitalised on the dual advantage by claiming to package “tradition’ as a product of modern convenience”

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