How a Yogi-Turned-Tycoon Won and Lost the Ayurveda Market

Baba Ramdev launched Coronil, an immunity booster, as a cure for COVID-19 to regain his slipping grip on the Indian market, but instead found himself engulfed in controversies.

Namrata Acharya

September 21, 2020

How a Yogi-Turned-Tycoon Won and Lost the Ayurveda Market
Baba Ramdev at a yoga camp on International Yoga Day, 2019, Rajpath, New Delhi. (Creative Commons)

Baba Ramdev has cured COVID-19. Or so he said. It isn’t the first far-fetched Ayurvedic solution Ramdev has offered India — the yogi-turned-tycoon has claimed, among other things, that yoga and Ayurvedic medicine can “cure” HIV, cancer, and homosexuality

Earlier this year in June, Ramdev’s multibillion-dollar company, Patanjali Ayurved, launched Coronil, pills containing tulsi (holy basil) and giloy — an indigenous herb often marketed as “the root of immortality” — which they claimed could cure COVID-19 patients within two weeks. In India, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world after the United States and the third-highest number of COVID-19 deaths, anxious consumers were naturally desperate for a quick fix. Despite the government’s refusal to vouch for Baba Ramdev’s claim — in fact, it directed Patanjali to sell its product as an immunity booster and not as a COVID-19 cure — demand for Coronil exploded. According to the company, it sold over a million packs per day in August. Reports indicate that buyers can find Coronil pills alongside Gilead’s remdesivir, a pharmaceutical anti-viral drug that targets COVID-19, on the black market.

The company isn’t new to controversy. In 2016, regulators in Haryana state found Patanjali’s cow ghee to be “substandard and unsafe.” In 2017, the Indian military stopped selling Patanjali’s amla juice to soldiers after a government agency found samples “unfit for consumption.”