Until a few years ago the English media knew very little about him. When Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat took on Ramdev for allegedly using human and animal bones in the medicines manufactured at his pharmacy, it came as a blessing in disguise for the yoga guru. Not only did he wriggle out of the controversy, he also became synonymous with ‘swadeshi’ – in fact, its brand ambassador.
Thereafter, the mass following of the man in saffron robes only grew, and simultaneously, he was catapulted into a situation where he began rubbing shoulders with top politicians and businessmen. He was soon speaking on issues like AIDS and homosexuality and waged a media war against multinational companies with the claim that ayurvedic medicine was the cure for all ills. He even claimed that he would soon bring from the Himalayas the “sanjivani booti”, the one believed to have been used by Lord Hanuman to cure the wounded Laxman in the epic Ramayana – the herb that could bring to life the dying.
Ramdev gained popularity on three counts – yoga, political activism and his ayurveda business. From Astha to Zee, he was appearing on all television channels and hitting headlines in newspapers. Sensing Ramdev could be pressed into service to further their political cause in the future, top BJP and Congress leaders now began visiting his vast durbar in Haridwar to seek his blessings quite openly.
With all sorts of lifestyle ailments around us, Ramdev’s earthy politico-religious message, breathing exercises and yoga postures held an appeal like no other. Businessmen, too, were regular visitors to his Haridwar-based ashram – Patanjali Yogapeeth. And the yoga guru naturally felt on the top of the world when his supporters bought islands and acquired new companies on his behalf in foreign nations.
Born as Ram Krishna Yadav in the Haryana village of Narnaul, Mahindergarh district, he studied only until class VIII. Later, he joined a gurukul and began taking lessons in yoga and the Vedas. In the early 1990s he used to sell amla (Indian gooseberry) on his bicycle and extoll its medicinal value (it is a big source of vitamin C) until he met a trader whose wife was on her deathbed. Ramdev revived her and in gratitude the trader set Ramdev up in business. His first enterprise was located at Kankhal, near Haridwar – the Divya Yog Pharmacy. It is from here that he began manufacturing ayurvedic medicines, which later became a bone of contention (pun unintended) with Brinda Karat.
Although he is one of the fiercest proponents of the swadeshi campaign in India and refused to use a mobile phone on the grounds that it affected one’s health (he, however, was seen talking on a mobile phone more than once during his Delhi fast), Ramdev recently joined hands with the world’s leading packaging solutions company Tetra Pak to develop an array of ready-to-drink health beverages in aseptic packages of different sizes and shapes. In the US, the yoga guru had also acquired an ayurvedic medicine company in the name of Herbo Ved, for an undisclosed sum, to sell new products abroad. Two years ago, Ramdev bought – or was gifted – an island in Scotland.
At his Patanjali Food and Herbal Park, established with an investment of Rs 500 crore over a sprawling 125 acres in Haridwar, Ramdev set up two Tetra Pak manufacturing machines with a capacity to produce 32,000 packets in just one hour. Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, an organisation founded by Ramdev, is set to launch 20-30 new products in various varieties, like apple and grape juices. Patanjali Ayurved has also created a strong network of 1,500 stores across the country.
But above all this, it is the vast assets of his various yoga and ayurvedic institutes that have raised eyebrows, with the Congress asking questions about the five-star luxury culture adopted by Ramdev. Though Ramdev has claimed he regularly has his assets audited, local Congress leaders say there should be a fresh assessment of his wealth (to the tune of crores of rupees) which he has amassed during the past one decade.