Person of the Week: Baba Ramdev


Person of the Week: Baba Ramdev

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

The Silicon Valley of India has reached that part of the Surya Namaskar where its arms are in the air reaching for the stars. A yoga baba-cum-swadeshipreneur has, in the last week, made a couple of contributions to global technology that have the potential to make personal details of Indians trend on a hackers’ laptop all the way in China. Commence chest thumping!

In one of the most inspiring moments for the country – and one of the finest throwbacks to the swadeshi movement since Indian Doritos – Patanjali has announced it will be taking time off from holding meetings with Louis Vuitton, and take on global tech leaders like WhatsApp and Vodafone, by introducing both a Swadeshi SIM card as well as a messaging app. Meanwhile all I have accomplished this week is being able to successfully throw a piece of paper from my chair into a dustbin 3 feet away.

Baba Ramdev, who is only a few business deals away from launching his own line of yoga-enabled spacecraft, is at this point, just showing off. It wouldn’t come as a shock if he’s the one who finally cures AIDS. For this reason, we are happy to announce that he is our Person of the Week. Make an appearance on a reality show and walk away with a million bucks, because at this party even your slightly slow cousin is an entrepreneur.

The first of Baba’s tech forays in the last week was a SIM card service provided to all employees of Patanjali Enterprises – presumably so Ramdev can monitor dissent as he continues down his path to total primetime TV domination. Other customers are allowed to get the SIM too, provided they also buy into another one of Baba Ramdev’s schemes, a Swadeshi Samriddhi debit card which can be used exclusively at Patanjali stores, hospitals, and wellness centres. That’s right, Baba’s gone so wild, he’s created his own banking system.

Then towards the end of the week, it emerged that the whole SIM card situation was merely an aperitif in Ramdev’s pure-veg tech-course dinner. The main course was a messaging app that would rival the likes of WhatsApp, while disguising itself to look exactly like WhatsApp. To add to the ruse, it’s called Kimbho, or “what’s up” in Sanskrit.

But to give Ramdev credit where it’s due, there’s nothing more swadeshi than a rip-off. You take something from abroad you know works well, like WhatsApp or Oceans 12, give it a desi twist – through Yoga emoji or a Shah Rukh Khan appearance – and voila! You have your own Swadeshi product, Kimbho, or Happy New Year.

Unfortunately most people are not seeing this announcement for the stroke of genius it really is, but are choosing instead to focus on all the unimportant things, like originality of technology or privacy. Several cyber experts have called the app a “security disaster” highlighting how users’ messages could be breached without much trouble. Thousands of Google reviews called the app buggy, and one Twitter user who goes by the name Elliot Alderson and regularly points out flaws in the Aadhaar system, went as far as to access the app’s backend. This meant that technically, he could have changed the name of the app to SexyBabaPix without anyone noticing.

The app was soon taken off Google Play, but was replaced by hundreds of fake versions uploaded by enthusiastic Patanjali peeps, who didn’t fully get the point, but were willing to try very hard. This led to apps like Kimbho weather, Kimbho jokes, and Kimbho code scanner (pls don’t use this).

But for all we know all this was part of a clever “reverse sting”, because this is what the managing director of Patanjali had to say before the launch of the app: “We are aware of the data leaks at WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook. Data from our country has fuelled their economy and has been misused without our permission. To ensure the privacy of Indian consumers, we are launching swadeshi alternative of WhatsApp”. It’s as if a health minister of a country stood up and said: “Enough with all these hi-tech hospitals, let’s get some witch doctors going in here.”

Someone is going to have to sit down and have a long, hard chat about the meaning of the word privacy with him.

Meanwhile, you can wait patiently for the return of Kimbho, which, according to its bio, is a place to share photos, videos, and to the copy guy’s credit, quickies. Whatever people might say, nothing is going to stop millions of people from downloading the app when it is eventually up and running. For haters gon’ hate, Patanjali gon’ dominate.