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YOGA guru Ramdev’s close aide Acharya Balkrishna has come a long way since 1995 when he and his mentor approached authorities to get Patanjali registered as an organisation. The two men had Rs 3,500 in their pockets while the officials demanded a fee of Rs 13,000. The duo borrowed Rs 5,000 each from two friends to fill the gap.

Twenty-one years later, Balkrishna has stormed into India’s richest 100 club with a USD2.5 billion net worth based on his 97 per cent stake in the fast-growing Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd, while e-tailer Flipkart’s co-founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal lost out.

ANNUAL FORBES LIST

Balkrishna on Thursday made his debut on the annual Forbes list of India’s 100 richest people at the 48th position. The Bansals who were ranked 86th last year with a net worth of USD1.3 billion have missed the boat this year with a dip in their company’s valuation.

The Flipkart co-founders did not offer any comment on the matter. Balkrishna is among six newcomers on the list that was topped for the ninth consecutive year by Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani.

Asked to comment on start-ups like Flipkart, Balkrishna told Mail Today, “I don’t know about start-ups…I don’t know what this list means. I only know one thing that even with an unlisted company like ours, we have achieved a spot in global rankings like the one issued by this business magazine. I dedicate it to the 20 crore consumers of Patanjali products.

PATANJALI, FLIPKART CONTRASTING BUSINESS PLANS

Both Flipkart and Patanjali are new businesses but with contrasting styles of functioning. While Flipkart is a modern-day technology driven company providing a purely trading platform, Patanjali draws on traditional Indian knowledge to produce goods for the market.

“Whatever we have achieved is without making any compromise with a twopronged strategy to give the right price to farmers and sell the goods at an affordable price to consumers,” Balkrishna said.

Forbes said the combined networth of India’s 100 wealthiest is USD381 billion (nearly Rs 25.5 lakh crore), a rise of 10 per cent from USD345 billion in 2015.

YOGI FOR LIFE: BALKRISHNA

Patanjali has grown into a company with annual turnover over Rs 5,000 crore and is targeting a Rs 10,000-crore turnover for next year. Balkrishna points out that now Patanjali is a talking point at malls and showrooms in big cities as well as in kirana shops in small towns. Such is the demand of Patnjali, he says, “that we are not able to provide enough supply…we have to increase our production levels this year.”

But will there be a change in his lifestyle to complement his new-found fortune? “No way,” says Balkrishna. “I have been a yogi and a sadhu, who wears a pair of slippers and mostly travels by road… I will continue living that way.” So what next after feeding Indians? “We will feed the cows,” he says.

At a time when gau-rakshaks are grabbing headlines, is Patnjali walking a path to prove a political point? “No,” says Balkrishna. “We are working to improve the breeding of Indian cows to tap the dairy potential and for that we are now getting into cattle feed production in a big way.”

HUGE POTENTIAL IN DAIRY

India’s potential in dairy is huge and such is the demand that it easily outstrips the supply, said Balkrishna, indicating that his company is ready to take on global dairy giants planning to enter the market.

Despite being a 97 per cent  shareholder in Patanjali and worth Rs 25,000 crore, he gives all the credit to Ramdev. “It is all his vision,” he said. “I am only the executing officer.”

RAMDEV DE-FACTO AMBASSADOR

Though Ramdev holds no shares in the company, he is its de facto brand ambassador, while Balkrishna runs operations, Forbes said.

Patnajali’s growing empire has a few immediate agendas – establish a Vedic education system with a blend of ancient traditional curriculum and spirituality. The other is mass cultivation of herbal products.

ALL OUT WAR AGAINST FOREIGN BRANDS

Giving a glimpse of the swadeshi manufacturers eating into the profits of multi-national food and consumer giants in the country, the Patanjali hinted at an “all- out war against the foreign brands”. He says, “First Gandhiji did it in the freedom movement. Then we read this in gurukul classes that MNCs only benefit their own countries. The time has come to pack them off.”