Acharya Balkrishna: Swadeshi not about boycotting foreign ideas & capital

Acharya Balkrishna, the owner of Patanjali Ayurved — one of India’s biggest consumer products companies — clarified that his company was not advocating a boycott of foreign ideas, concepts or even capital in the name of going Swadeshi.

Speaking at the India Economic Conclave in Mumbai, Balkrishna even said his company was even open to selling a stake to Louis Vuitton, the global fashion and consumer company that had evinced an interest in investing in the company.

However, said Balkrishna, his company’s Swadeshi was about cutting away unnecessary expenses and intermediaries, including foreign companies.

Patanjali Ayurved has always pitched itself as a ‘Swadeshi’ (native) alternative to foreign brands, and has urged consumers to switch to Indian brands in its advertisements.

Its biggest competitors are global manufacturers like Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.

Balkrishna seemed to be suggesting that the business of manufacturing and distributing consumer goods, such as food and beverages, is not so complicated that it cannot be done by Indian companies.

“A farmer in India gets 50-60 rupees per kg of pulses. The same item is sold in the market as organic pulses for Rs 250-300. Can’t we run a campaign so that the farmer gets a higher value and the consumer gets a cheaper product,” he asked.

At the same time, Balkrishna — one of India’s richest men — warned against observing Swadeshi restrictions in terms of ideas and knowledge.

“Patanjali’s Swadeshi movement does not say that we should shut out any country as far as technology, knowledge and information is concerned..As far as technology is concerned, we must absolutely accept technology from across the world.

“If we say no to (foreign) technology and knowledge in the name of Swadeshi, we will remain backward.”

He pointed out that 90% of all the complicated machinery used by Patanjali in its research facilities are imported. “If they are not made in India, I don’t have a choice,” he said.

He also said there was nothing wrong with taking foreign capital either, and that his company did not say a flat ‘no’ to an investment interest shown by L Catterton, a private equity fund co-owned by Louis Vuitton.

The fund, which recently invested in the Future Group, is focused on fast-growing consumer brands and businesses.

“We considered what we should say (to their proposal). We couldn’t simply say no (because it’s a foreign firm). So we said, we’ll take the investment, but on our terms, not on their terms,” he said.