It was late in the afternoon of March 23, 2014 in New Delhi and the start of national elections was a fortnight away.
A few minutes later, the yoga guru and entrepreneur known as Baba Ramdev turned to a microphone and urged the crowd before him to mobilize votes for Modi: “You’ll make other people understand, won’t you? You won’t sit at home, will you?” The crowd roared back, “No!”
Modi grinned. Ramdev laughed. The politician and the co-founder of a billion-dollar consumer products business were both headed to the pinnacle of a right-wing Hindu movement that seeks to shape the destiny of the world’s fastest-growing major economy. About two months after the rally, when voting had rolled across the vast country, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the long-ruling Congress Party from power.
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.
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.
Since Modi took office in May 2014, Patanjali has acquired almost 2,000 acres of land for building factories, research facilities and establishing supply chains of herbs for its products, according to state land documents and interviews with officials. During the rule of the previous Congress-led government the firm had been selling large tracts of its land holdings. Two of the four acquisitions exceeding 100 acres were in states controlled by Modi’s BJP. A third was in an area where the governing party was in the process of partnering with the BJP.
In the BJP-controlled states, Patanjali received a discount on the land purchased of 77 percent off market prices, according to state government documents, interviews with officials and land values provided by local real estate agents. The company has pledged to use the property to create more jobs with new factories, answering a major need in India, where millions of people are reaching working age each year.
Official reporting of land transactions in India is patchy, especially of deals involving smaller acreages. But some do surface. For example, Patanjali received a discount of more than $10 million, or 88 percent, on a 40-acre plot in the BJP state of Madhya Pradesh last year, according to interviews with a state official and real estate brokers.
Neither the prime minister’s office nor Patanjali executives, including Ramdev, responded to written questions about the transactions, which were lawful.
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.
Source : Reuters