What court holding Patanjali guilty of misleading ads tells us about Ramdev's journey from baba to lala

Nobody can point out the precise moment when Baba (ascetic) Ramdev made the transition to Lala (trader) Ramdev. When he graduated from being a humble yoga guru to the one-stop solution to every conceivable, or inconceivable, malady.

Sexual dysfunction. Vyakti ki shakti kam parna, as he puts it lyrically. Tick.

Hairfall, alopecia (a communicable disease, he claims) and baldness. Tick.


Can't conceive. "When mata-behen have to go to pakhandis out of desperation," he prophetically claimed. Shivlingi Putrajeevak, tick.

Think of a problem — diagnosed, undiagnosed, imagined, perceived, anything — Baba Ramdev had a solution for it. And soon he turned Patanjali into a global brand and himself into a tireless brand ambassador of everything Indian, its great heritage of healing diseases through roots, leaves, seeds and, well, anything that grows on this great land. So much so that an average Indian would start his morning with Patanjali toothpaste and end the day with natural contraceptives suggested by the venerable Baba.

Turns out, everything that is sold in saffron robes is not gold.

According to news reports, a Haridwar court has fined Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Ayurveda for "misleading advertisements and misbranding." Patanjali Ayurveda was fined Rs 11 lakh because the products being shown by the company as produced at its own units were in fact manufactured somewhere else.

Baba Ramdev. File photo. PTI

Baba Ramdev. File photo. PTI

Details of the case are sketchy, and understandably so considering Baba's clout and brand value. But, prima facie, it seems Patanjali Ayurveda was selling outsourced products as its own and lying about it.

Whether they failed on quality standards is not clear. According to The Indian Express, a case had been filed in 2012 by the District Food Safety Department after samples of mustard oil, salt, pineapple jam, besan and honey produced by Patanjali had failed quality tests at Rudrapur laboratory. The products were found to be in violation of Sections 52-53 of Food Security norms and Section 23.1 (5) of Food Safety and Standard (packaging and labelling) regulation.


But, in the past, questions have been raised about Patanjali's claims and its products. In April this year, aata (flour) noodles (Swadeshi meets Chinese) sold by Patanjali were found to be sub-standard since they contained three times more ash than the acceptable limit. Before that, desi ghee sold by Patanjali was found to contain artificial colour.

Marketing is the art of selling someone a trip to hell but making it look like an all-expense paid vacation in Switzerland. Often, what people buy is based more on the trust they have in the person selling it, instead of the qualitative assessment of the product. So, it is indeed an ode to Ramdev that he has become both India's best known Baba as well as Lala. It shows, Indians have implicit faith in him and the cures and products he hard sells.

The Indian mindset, of course, is primed to help any Baba turn into a marketing guru. In a country that believes — in some cases rightly so — our ancient wisdom and prescriptions were far more superior to borrowed medicines and lifestyle lessons, it is easier to sell cleverly incorporating swadeshi, vedic, Hindu, shuddh in the marketing campaign.

Also, Ramdev has positioned himself uniquely in the Indian mindset that is already conditioned to equate anything saffron with sacred. Though there have been several instances of religious leaders assimilating political power — of politics flowing from the seat of religion — Ramdev is perhaps the only instance of artha (money), dharma (religion in this case), kama (pursuit of power) and moksha (the nirvana he sells) coming together to produce a Baba who is both a Lala (trader) and a neta (politician). Ramdev is indeed unique, perhaps a symbol of our times where all margins have been blurred.

It is precisely because Ramdev wields so much power and influence that his company's indictment for violations, breach of laws and marketing principles is a great tragedy. And a reminder that when gullible buyers shop in the marketplace of baba-bhakti and rashtrabhakti, they invariably return with what Kapil Sharma famously describes as Babaji ka thullu.


Published Date: Dec 15, 2016 05:16 pm | Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 10:09 pm


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