Patanjali
Outside a Patanjali warehouse in Nagpur, Maharashtra (representational image) | Photo: Dhiraj Singh | Bloomberg Photo
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There is hardly a product Patanjali Ayurved Limited doesn’t sell. And this week, the FMCG major, through its co-founder and yoga guru Ramdev, announced it has found a ‘cure’ for Covid-19, setting off a major controversy. The coronavirus pandemic, which is wreaking havoc around the globe, has no known cure yet despite researchers worldwide toiling in its pursuit. 

Soon after the launch of ‘Coronil and Swasari’, the Ministry of AYUSH ordered Patanjali to stop advertising the product — made of phytochemicals derived from ashwagandha, tulsi and giloy with the kit priced at Rs 545 — until the government had analysed the documents submitted by the firm.

Within a day, the ministry’s Ayurved department in Uttarakhand revealed that Patanjali’s application for licence “didn’t mention coronavirus”. Soon, social media erupted, with many calling for legal action against Ramdev. 

A day later, the governments in Maharashtra and Rajasthan came out with explicit warning to Patanjali against advertising or selling Coronil until the AYUSH Ministry has given its approval. Rajasthan’s health department also served a notice to National Institute of Medical Science (NIMS) in Jaipur for conducting clinical trials for Coronil without informing the state government. 

The storm surrounding Coronil, and the fact that the company dealing in Ayurvedic and herbal products could be charged under two laws, including The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, makes Patanjali ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.


Also read: Why Coronil working or not against Covid makes no difference to Ramdev or his Patanjali


Meteoric rise

Although Ramdev is the face of Patanjali, the company, headquartered in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, is owned by his close aide Balkrishna, the managing director who owns 98.5 per cent of the firm.

Ever since its launch in 2006, Patanjali has registered a rise arguably unmatched by a firm selling consumer goods in India. In FY12, Patanjali Ayurved registered revenue of Rs 453 crore; its revenue for FY17 was Rs 9,000 crore. The company positioned itself as a manufacturer of ‘swadeshi’ goods, which aligned well with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan. 

By 2017, Patanjali was India’s second-biggest fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) player, behind Hindustan Unilever (HUL).

In a report on Patanjali’s prolific rise, Mint quoted writer and creative consultant Anuja Chauhan as saying: “Patanjali is riding on Ramdev’s huge fan following. The company got two things right — one, the whole India-ayurveda connection and, second, the MNC style of advertising.”

It shows in Patanjali being hands-on with the latest developments. The coronavirus-induced lockdown shut many businesses in India as companies and factories were forced to suspend operations. When online sales resumed after more than two months, Patanjali was quick to figure out an opportunity. In May, the company launched its e-commerce portal, OrderMe, where it now sells everything — from herbal medicines, cosmetics, home care and personal care products to organic fruits, vegetables, pulses, dairy products and confectionary items.


Also read: Not just by modern-day yoga fans, Patanjali was misunderstood even in history


Controversies aren’t new to Patanjali and Ramdev

The government and public reaction to Ramdev’s launch of Coronil and Swasari, with the claim that it’s a ‘cure’ for Covid-19, is a stark reminder of Patanjali’s launch of its instant noodles brand in 2015. Before the Patanjali Atta Noodles could hit the stores, the Food Safety and Regulatory Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a restraining order, saying the company hadn’t taken product approval. 

Lunched in the wake of the Maggi noodles fiasco, Patanjali’s Atta Noodles displayed an FSSAI licence number on its packets. But FSSAI’s then-chairperson Ashish Bahuguna was categorical in rejecting it: “How can licence be given for a product that has not been approved? I do not know how the licence was procured.” The government later served a notice on Patanjali for violating food safety norms.

But such controversies aren’t an exception for Patanjali. In its launch year itself, the National Aids Control Organisation, a division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, had to release a statement denouncing Ramdev’s claim that yoga can cure AIDS. Doctors had similarly rejected as “irresponsible” Ramdev’s claim that yoga can cure cancer. “If he says a cure for cancer and AIDS is available, he might be misleading patients who may refuse treatment on the basis of his statement and suffer.’’

In 2015, the company’s product named ‘Divya Putrajeevak Beej’, which claimed to treat infertility, was being “sold by some (Patanjali) pharmacies as medicine that can guarantee the birth of a boy.” However, the Ministry of AYUSH had defended the product, saying the medicine was named after a herb that is used to stabilise the menstrual cycle in women.

In 2016, the retailing platform for India’s defence forces, the canteen stores department (CSD), suspended the sale of Patanjali’s flagship amla juice after it was deemed unfit for consumption.

Patanjali was back in the FSSAI’s radar in 2018 for selling a medicinal product with future manufacturing date. Later that year, Patanjali was forced to shelve the plan to re-launch its ‘swadeshi’ messaging app Kimbho.


Also read: From McDonald’s to Patanjali, an IAS officer explains how FSSAI is making food safer


Hiccups and rebound

Brands are built over a period of time. And companies do everything in their capacity to hold on to the reputation and trust they eventually acquire. Not Patanjali, though. Despite all the controversies, it continues to function unaffected, sailing through every crisis riding on people’s unquestionable trust. 

Even when its sales decline and outlet owners begin to worry about the future of their business, Patanjali puts up a strong face, confident that it “will be back as top advertisers and top FMCG company”.

The confidence is not unfounded, though.

After posting a fall in 2018-19, Patanjali bounced back to register its highest ever revenue, Rs 3,562 crore, in the first half of any financial year in 2019-20. 

The Covid-induced lockdown has hit all big and small businesses hard and it remains to be seen how its effects play out for Patanjali, on top of the negative publicity brought on by the backlash over the Coronil launch. But if the public’s unflinching trust in Ramdev and in the empire he has built has established anything by now, it’s that all those things that would otherwise be a nightmare for another company are, for Patanjali, only minor hiccups.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. That accusation of Patanjali selling its products with a future production date was a fake news. Anybody could easily see through the 6 that was made to look like 8 through a simple pen work. Enough to understand the intent of this publication.

  2. If the writer has used Dant Kanti , I am sure she will not use any other product. I am convinced this is the best tooth paste I have ever used in 62 years of my life and I have lived in 5 countries.

  3. Baba Ramdev & Patanjali’s brazenness is unparalleled, fully back up by the govt at the moment. Afterall, his supporters are their votebank

  4. Whatever comes With Swadeshi tag has to be discarded . But if the same comes with videshi tag it is welcomed. This is our grate country.

    • Dr Indira Patil: The consumer is no idiot and will choose products that provide value for money. Likewise, the producer aims to reduce manufacturing costs whilst maximising revenues and profits by selling shoddy products, especially when he faces no competition and can get away with it. Lofty appeals to patriotism do not make much impact on the profit maximisation instincts of producers nor on the value maximisation instincts of consumers.

      During the “licence raj” that stretched from Independence to early 90s, many desi manufacturers were able to produce poor quality products and dump them on a captive Indian market, shielded as they were from competition and protected by tariff and quota barriers. Thus, we had the Ambassador & Padmini car brands that had not evolved since they were designed in the 1950s and yet were the only choices for the Indian consumer. These cars were utterly unsafe, expensive to operate and yet were sold at prices that were far beyond what they were worth. When the floodgates of competition were opened, these brands simply evaporated. Similar examples can be found in virtually every consumer product made in India. Something the Chinese have discovered and exploit with great glee.

      The history of economics shows that attempts to justify economic autarky a.k.a. “atmanirbharism” in Modi-speak through appeals to nationalism have never worked anywhere in the world, and not just in India. In India, it increased smuggling, shortchanged consumers, enabled producers to extract and wallow in economic rents and enabled the much ballyhooed “Hindu rate of growth”. Barring a few exceptions, most Indian products were shoddy.

      And then you have the security aspects of swadeshi. Shoddy manufacturing and award of contracts to well-connected crony capitalists has ensured that the Armed Forces get poor quality defence equipment and services. And crony capitalists are party agnostic – they are always friendly with whichever party or party grouping that holds the reins of power in Delhi. Thus, Anil Ambani, an incompetent businessman with many NPA feathers on his cap and zero experience in the aerospace sector is awarded the Rafale maintenance contract by none other than PM Modi !

      Yes, one must improve manufacturing capability in the country. But that has not happened so far and cannot be magically made to happen overnight. And talking of swadeshi when your life is in danger is foolish to say the least. Thus, the Indian made bolt-action single round firing .303 rifle used by brave Bomaby police at Victoria station were no match for Ajmal Kasab’s state of the art AK47.

      A lot more factors than the irrepressible Indian desire for all things “phoren” are at work Dr Patil. Perhaps you could translate that to Gujarati and send it across to the Godhra man and his Muslim – err termite – hating Home Minister !

      A lot more factors than the irrepressible Indian desire for all things “phoren” were at work Dr Patil.

    • Dr Indira Patil: The consumer is no idiot and will choose products that provide value for money. Likewise, the producer aims to reduce manufacturing costs whilst maximising revenues and profits by selling shoddy products, especially when he faces no competition and can get away with it. Lofty appeals to patriotism do not make much impact on the profit maximisation instincts of producers nor on the value maximisation instincts of consumers.

      During the “licence raj” that stretched from Independence to early 90s, many desi manufacturers were able to produce poor quality products and dump them on a captive Indian market, shielded as they were from competition and protected by tariff and quota barriers. Thus, we had the Ambassador & Padmini car brands that had not evolved since they were designed in the 1950s and yet were the only choices for the Indian consumer. These cars were utterly unsafe, expensive to operate and yet were sold at prices that were far beyond what they were worth. When the floodgates of competition were opened, these brands simply evaporated. Similar examples can be found in virtually every consumer product made in India. Something the Chinese have discovered and exploit with great glee.

      The history of economics shows that attempts to justify economic autarky a.k.a. “atmanirbharism” in Modi-speak through appeals to nationalism have never worked anywhere in the world, and not just in India. In India, it increased smuggling, shortchanged consumers, enabled producers to extract and wallow in economic rents and enabled the much ballyhooed “Hindu rate of growth”. Barring a few exceptions, most Indian products were shoddy.

      And then you have the security aspects of swadeshi. Shoddy manufacturing and award of contracts to well-connected crony capitalists has ensured that the Armed Forces get poor quality defence equipment and services. And crony capitalists are party agnostic – they are always friendly with whichever party or party grouping that holds the reins of power in Delhi. Thus, Anil Ambani, an incompetent businessman with many NPA feathers on his cap and zero experience in the aerospace sector is awarded the Rafale maintenance contract by none other than PM Modi !

      Yes, one must improve manufacturing capability in the country. But that has not happened so far and cannot be magically made to happen overnight. And talking of swadeshi when your life is in danger is foolish to say the least. Thus, the Indian made bolt-action single round firing .303 rifle used by brave Bomaby police at Victoria station were no match for Ajmal Kasab’s state of the art AK47.

      A lot more factors than the irrepressible Indian desire for all things “phoren” are at work Dr Patil. Perhaps you could translate that to Gujarati and send it across to the Godhra man and his Muslim – err termite – hating Home Minister !

    • Swadeshi is fine. Pseudoscience isn’t.
      Swadeshi is no excuse to flout regulation and doing fraud advertisements.
      I am quite sure you are a quack doctor. BAMS or BHMS?

      • Excellent Mr Chay !

        Swadeshi is surely great as an idea. But we have had 70 years of proof to show that it does not work.

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