Writing the Baba Ramdev story: TNM in conversation with author of 'Godman to Tycoon'

Priyanka Pathak-Narain talks about the research that went into the book, Patanjali, and the man himself.
Writing the Baba Ramdev story: TNM in conversation with author of 'Godman to Tycoon'
Writing the Baba Ramdev story: TNM in conversation with author of 'Godman to Tycoon'
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"His trajectory from extreme deprivation to where he is today is a narrative that must be understood in all its nuance and complexity", says journalist Priyanka Pathak-Narain, who recently penned Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev.

Priyanka was in Bengaluru on Thursday to speak about her book at the Women Writers' Fest, organised by SheThePeople.

Interacting with TNM on the sidelines of the event, the investigative journalist spoke, among other things, about her motive to write the book; deciphering the character of the self-styled godman turned entrepreneur; and the recent court order against the book.

"To try and isolate one moment or one event of that life would not really help with the understanding of how complex that journey was", she says, responding to a question about whether there is a defining moment in Baba Ramdev's life.

Priyanka's book chronicles the rise of Baba Ramdev — from a sadhu to a yogi to a successful business mogul who harbours political ambitions as well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed by Baba Ramdev and Balkrishan (right) at the inauguration of the Patanjali Research Institute in Haridwar; PTI Photo.

A religion reporter for over a decade now, Priyanka has looked closely and reported on the space of religion and business and where they meet.

"He has come to occupy such a vital place there not just in terms of religion but also in terms of business, and it was natural to feel curious about this person who is so visible, but is not really understood," she states.

So how would she describe Ramdev? "My interaction with him has always been very positive. He is very generous with his time, he is very self-deprecating. And, he always takes the time to make sure that you feel satisfied walking away from an interview with him."

The man, according to Priyanka, is also one who deeply cares about his legacy, someone who will do what is needed to safeguard his vision for his own life.

Priyanka Pathak-Narain; Image source: newslaundry/YouTube

It took the author about a year to finish the project, which included extensive research. About 52 interviews, numerous ROC papers and RTIs and over 200 public sources went into the writing of the book.

While it was difficult to track the right people for the book, it was fairly easy to get them to talk.

"In terms of getting people to talk, I think people were so ready. They were just waiting for that knock on the door. And they wanted to share their experience and their memories of their time with Baba Ramdev," she says.

Priyanka also interviewed the man himself for the book, but has no clue about why a Delhi court issued an injunction restraining its sale earlier this month.

"He knew (that I was writing a book). He met me and talked to me. The matter is sub judice, so I am not allowed to discuss it. But, I really don't know. This book is based on facts and I've no idea (why he approached the court)," she states.

Ramdev's apparent displeasure with the book could have to do with some of the issues the author explores in her book. Be it the mysterious disappearance or death of some of his close associates, or how his FMCG company Patanjali allegedly handles its workers.

"I think there are a lot of challenges in their (Ramdev and Patanjali's) future," she states.

She goes on to add that Patanjali faces some real issues that it will need to fix in order to sustain its "astonishing growth". It transformed from a Rs 300 crore organisation to a Rs 10,000 crore organisation within five years.

"There are very real issues within Patanjali. There is a lot of rivalry between his two deputies. There are issues with the execution. The idea is great — of marrying Swadesi and FMCG. But, there are problems in the execution of it, which is why Patanjali shows up in the news for the wrong reasons far too often. And all of that will have to be ironed out. The first mover advantage is starting to wane. There are a lot of people catching on to the idea now," she adds.

Priyanka strongly believes that a journalist's job is to present the facts in the most neutral way possible to the readers, and not offer any opinion.

Her book, too, reflects the same. It does not take a stand or judge its protagonist, which has led some to think that she has perhaps gone too soft on him.

In response to a critic who stated that book does not have a "moral compass", Priyanka says, "It's not my job to have a moral compass. He may not like the positive things that I have said, just like many may not like the negative things that I've said. My job is to navigate between those two camps of our society because Baba Ramdev is a very polarising figure, and the hope with my book was to get the two sides to see the other's perspective, and navigate the grey area in between where reality often lies."

"But if I get brickbats from both sides, which I am, then it is a badge of honour. I've done something right", she quips, signing off.

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