In a noodle soup


November 25, 2015

Baba Ramdev (right) launching the Patanjali Atta Noodles in New Delhi, India on November 16

Indian yoga guru Ramdev’s bid to capture the market vacated by Maggi after it was banned appears to be running into rough weather. The food safety authorities say his Patanjali Ayurved has permission to make pasta only.

For the uninitiated, there is a posture in yoga called shirshasana which, in simple English, is a headstand. It is an asana which yoga enthusiasts will tell you is a difficult one to master because it has to be done very carefully and, most certainly, under supervision. The posture has several health benefits for the entire body and is considered the greatest of all asanas because it awakens the highest level of consciousness in a human being. For a lay person, this would make the world look different. But for a yoga teacher, it could mean looking at the field of business from a different perspective.

Something like this appears to be the case with a new age yoga guru and his close associate starting a roaring business in ayurvedic medicines and over-the-counter ayurvedic products. The growth rate of Patanjali Ayurved has astounded even the head honchos of well-entrenched national and multi-national brands. It is a different matter that the products are cheaper by 25-30 per cent compared to established players in the market which could explain its growth. And the yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, now seems to be looking at noodles from the angle of pasta. Hard to believe but let us look at the entire issue from a normal standpoint.

About nine years ago, Ramdev was found to be very telegenic while teaching yoga on a spiritual television channel. The immense popularity of the show led him to become one of the first yoga gurus to hire stadiums to hold yoga sessions in any and every city or town in the country. His ownership of the channel also steadily increased. As his yoga followers multiplied to thousands and millions - one estimate is that it is about 200mn - Patanjali Ayurved’s retail network also multiplied. The huge number of followers did not require any advertising campaigns, unlike its rivals. The yoga guru even got to own a small island off the Scottish coast courtesy an Indian couple. Even well known groups decided to have separate sections within their retail space for its products. From ayurveda products, the company started selling other consumer foods like honey, ghee and wheat flour as well.

For some time, given the large number of participants at his yoga camps, Ramdev got politically ambitious. He jumped on to the anti-corruption bandwagon during the peak of the agitation led by Anna Hazare and the current Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal. The

latter ensured that he was kept at a distance. After being humiliated, the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government relented and broke up his threat to fast unto death. It was done in the only way that policemen are trained to do - in a rough manner,

leading to his being arrested while running on the Delhi roads, wearing a woman’s dress. But, all this has only strengthened public perception that he carries some amount of clout, if not too much, with the powers-that-be in

the current dispensation. This is what, possibly, gives room for the industry to look at him, currently, as a challenger who has the backing of a government.

In recent months, Patanjali Ayurved saw a wide entry point to the noodles market in India. The global brand Maggi had been sent to the gallows, so to speak, by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The food-in-two-minutes brand was found to contain monosodium glutamate or MSG in excess of permissible limits. At least that’s what FSSAI said, but the laboratories and the courts thought otherwise. As the multinational fought its legal battles and reappeared on retail shelves, Patanjali Ayurved decided to enter the fray with its wheat noodles, proclaiming it had the approval from the FSSAI. But, then the highest court of the land had stopped approvals by the FSSAI because it had questioned its approval system in the wake of the Maggi fiasco. So, would the regulatory body give such permission is the natural question.

Patanjali Ayurved believes that it has received approval from the regulatory body and that is the reason for it to carry the logo of FSSAI as well as the licence number on its noodles packet. This is where the friction takes a different colour. The FSSAI insists that the approval it has given to Patanjali is only for the manufacture of food items like pasta.

The regulatory body, is simply saying, pasta is not noodles. Noodles requires a different licence and since it has not given one, it cannot go around announcing it is going to launch wheat noodles. Patanjali thinks otherwise. It

insists that if it has got the licence for pasta, it also covers noodles. This is where the perspective changes depending upon the angle from which a person looks at it, the headstand or the normal standpoint.

It is fairly clear that the regulatory body is in a state of flux currently because it is questioning the decision of a lower court in allowing Maggi noodles to retail its famous product. It also has to set right its system for approvals. And, it is also clear that in such a situation, Ramdev’s company is ready to take advantage to capture a gap in the market while Maggi fights its final battle against the FSSAI. It is possible that Patanjali will face a similar situation like Maggi. The interesting angle out of all this is that the yoga camps seem to have reduced as the business prospects look up for the yoga guru. The world certainly looks different when a yoga practitioner does the balancing act by doing a standing asana. That balance, it appears, will take a slightly longer time.

What value education?

Trust the social media to go berserk over the educational qualifications of a first-timer legislator who has gone on to become the Deputy Chief Minister of the state of Bihar. We are talking about 26 year old Tejashwi Yadav, son of Rashtriya Janata party (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. Since the father cannot contest elections for the next decade following his conviction in a corruption case, the ‘responsibility’ has to necessarily fall on the younger and politically-savvy son.

It is also a matter of prestige in politics. How can Lalu Yadav’s son not be in power when his RJD is the single largest party in the assembly and a major partner in the newly elected government headed by Nitish Kumar is a question that many would ask. In a state like Bihar, it could have even led to an agitation.

Tejashwi’s background is rather interesting. He completed his eighth standard (or grade) and decided cricket was his passion. He, obviously, played quite well for the teams to be selected by an Indian Premier League (IPL) team to play the Twenty20 tournament. He was the 12th man in the team but, as one headline in a newspaper put, he has now become the vice captain of the state.

Do educational qualifications matter is a question that has always been asked by everyone who has an opinion or is concern about the current state of affairs. It does help say many an experienced politician. But, it is also a fact that those who have performed very well as ministers are also those who have had educational qualifications slightly higher than Tejashwi. “It is a question of keeping your ear to the ground, sincerity in dealing with the problems of the people and people management. So, why shouldn’t one get a doctorate from a management institute,” one such minister had asked this writer.

But, the best on Tejashwi has come from somebody who has expressed his frustration. “I am a graduate and I cannot become even a deputy chief minister now!” 

 

Tailpiece

Remember the man who had put out a list of words that were banned from use in movies?  He happens to be the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Well, Pahlaj Nihalani also, like many others, has also survived the attacks from all sides and continues to play his role with the same zeal.

This time, however, he has made sure that the latest James Bond movie is shown on the screens across the country with a reduction in two kissing scenes between Bond and his leading ladies. The extent of reduction may come as a shocker. It is ‘50 per cent’ or cutting 54 seconds of such a scene. Since it comes in the era of the Internet on a smart phone, it would be safe to say that it is a daft of a decision.