Land for harvesting votes


Ever since Modi became Prime Minister of India, Yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s business has expanded by manifold. Not only his spiritual Yoga business but also his “chemical free” consumer goods  business.

Baba who had claimed his “genuine” Ayurvedic medical products and yoga can cure AIDS and Homosexuality has now become the leading player in whole range of products for home use. It seems the tremendous support Modi got from Baba Ramdev for catching votes is being reciprocated by giving huge chunks of land at big discounts as per this Reuters report.

Ramdev’s business has boomed since the BJP took power. Revenues at his consumer goods enterprise are soaring – from about $156 million in the financial year ending March 2013 to more than $322 million in the year to March 2015, according to financial filings. In early May, Ramdev said revenues in the financial year just ended had jumped to about $1.6 billion.

The firm’s products range from toothpaste to clarified ghee butter and household cleaning materials. They are found in every corner of the country, from the scantest villages to teeming cities. Its foods, which include rice, biscuits and chutney, are sold in the canteens of India’s security forces and served on some tables in the nation’s parliament.

Advertisements for Patanjali’s products stress that they are ayurvedic, meaning they are rooted in ancient Indian tradition. The ads echo the talking points of Modi’s support base by appealing to consumers’ patriotism, urging them to avoid giving cash to foreign firms.

“As East India Company plundered our country for 200 years,” reads one advertisement, referring to the British company that colonized India during the 18th and 19th centuries, “likewise these multinationals are exploiting our country by selling their harmful and dangerous chemical products. Beware!”

In ways not previously disclosed, Modi and Ramdev, each a product of the Hindu right, owe part of their success to the other. The yoga guru is one of the most instantly recognizable figures in India and his company’s traditional foods and health supplements are among the country’s fastest-growing brands. He tapped his following as a TV yoga celebrity and deployed resources from his consumer goods empire, mobilizing voters and synchronizing messaging with the BJP in a 2014 campaign that was larger and more tightly coordinated with Modi’s party than is publicly known.

In return, leading BJP figures have endorsed Ramdev’s vision for India, a populism laced with assertions of Hindu primacy that twins nostalgia for ancient glory with suspicion of foreign influence.

Since Modi came to power, Ramdev’s company has received more than an estimated $46 million in discounts for land acquisitions in states controlled by the BJP, according to a Reuters review of state government documents, interviews with officials and real estate estimates. It gained access to other land free of charge. The firm, Patanjali, has also received something of an official imprimatur from a newly created ministry and BJP leaders.

At a stone-laying ceremony for a Patanjali food processing plant in the central Indian city of Nagpur last September, one of the signers of the oath in the Ramdev video, Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari, made a personal appearance. A video recording of the event showed Patanjali’s Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna turning to Gadkari. “We want a road” leading to the site of the planned factory, Balkrishna said.

From his place on a white sofa, the minister smiled. “This road you’re talking about, I’ve decided to make it a national highway. Once you start your work, we’ll issue a tender,” he said.

Ramdev, who sat between Gadkari and the state’s BJP chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, laughed and applauded.

Crony Capitalism is not a new phenomenon in India. Most political parties help their donors and friends in many ways when they come to power. The difference here is Ramdev aided in procuring votes for BJP instead of money  But the largesse shown to Ramdev in return is rather brazen and unprecedented. Also the support given by Central and state governments gives legitimacy to his patriarchal and pseudo scientific views  and threatens nation’s scientific temper.

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