Baba Ramdev’s close aide Acharya Balkrishna has entered the coveted Hurun India Rich List 2016 as a billionaire with a personal fortune of Rs 25,600 crore ($3.82 billion). For this he has to thank the popularity of Ramdev and the products endorsed by him. The resultant craze for Patanjali Ayurved’s FMCG products has pushed up the company’s turnover at a really fast pace. However, Balkrishna has been the brains behind the business. A contentious figure, who has faced charges of forgery and money laundering in the past, Balakrishna has pulled all the right strings to cash in on the emotion of Ramdev’s huge follower base, hard selling the ayurvedic and ‘swadesi’ idea.
Balkrishna Suvedi, born to Nepalese parents who later migrated to India, was Ramdev’s junior in Khanpur Gurukul in Haryana. The man owns at least 93 per cent stake in Patanjali Ayurved and heads 34 companies and three trusts associated with Ramdev and the Patanjali banner. Among other achievements, Patanjali interestingly claims the Acharya rediscovered the Sanjivani booti — the famed herb that rescued the life of Lakshman.
He was charged with cheating and criminal conspiracy for procuring fake degrees to acquire an Indian passport. His ‘Purv Madhyma’ high school degree and ‘Shastri’, a Sanskrit degree from Sampurna Nand Sanskrit University do not exist on the university records. Balkrishna disappeared in 2012 after CBI summoned him in a forgery case and the Enforcement Directorate later registered a case against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for alleged illegal remittances. The cases were closed after the NDA government came to power in 2014.
In all fairness, Balkrishna is a pure, albeit controversial, businessman who has captured the nerve of the Indian consumers and rattled FMCG majors who have conveniently enjoyed a near monopoly in the Indian market with their flagship products. Patanjali Ayurveda posted turnovers of Rs 5,000 crore for FY 2015-16 up from Rs 450 crore in 2012 — a rise of over 11 times in a matter of four years. It would be naive to say that Balkrishna could have managed the feat on his own. Ramdev, who doesn’t hold stake in the company, has been the face of the firm and has promoted the company in all of his yoga camps and events as well as TV programmes. Now, he is running an active campaign against MNCs and pushing for swadeshi.
More importantly, Balkrishna has positioned Patanjali’s non-innovative products under a very competitive price structure with a natural, herbal and ayurvedic branding. He is the one who gives the thumbs up to every product right from conception and development to final packaging. His insistence on maintaining a rural or rustic image of the company’s products has, in fact, bolstered the faith of a large majority of consumers in the ‘purity’ of the goods on offer.
Patanjali has recently trumped all established FMCG firms in the country including the likes of HUL, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive. Even players present in the fragmented herbal and ayurvedic products market like Zandu, Dabur and Baidyanath were unable to match the speed at which Patanjali ate into their market share. Now, with Patanjali aiming for sales targets of Rs 1 lakh crore in the FY 2020, the market share of FMCG majors is set to take further hits. The company has also entered into joint ventures with some foreign companies and has been exporting their products to countries like the US, Canada and the middle east.
Balkrishna has intelligently avoided excessive experimentation with the Patanjali’s product catalogue. He has offered products that consumers are used to and packaged them with claims of ayurvedic qualities. As the company is not publicly owned, the veracity of their claims can’t be easily verified. Consumers have to trust Ramdev’s reputation when it comes to the quality of the products. In the process, Balkrishna has managed to rightly predict consumer behaviour and immensely reduce friction in the end users when they shift from one product to a new one. Using Ramdev’s popularity, the duo has maintained a clear and strong single brand value proposition that has made Patanjali Ayurved a self sustaining entity and earned the company huge profits. The two claims all profits are channeled for charity and larger good of the society.