Facebook Inc.-owned WhatsApp, the most popular chat app in India and the world, has competition from the unlikeliest quarter.
Yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved, which has given consumer goods behemoths such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd a run for their money in recent years, has launched Android messaging app ‘Kimbho’ pitching it as a competitor to WhatsApp.
This, even as the Haridwar-headquartered Patanjali has tied up with state-owned telecom player Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) to launch SIM cards at tariff plans that seem to compare with those of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.
“Now Bharat will speak. After launching SIM cards, Ramdev has launched a new messaging application called Kimbho,” Patanjali spokesperson SK Tijarawala tweeted. "Now WhatsApp will be given a competition (sic). Our own #SwadeshiMessagingplatform. Download it directly from Google Play store."
But can Kimbho really hope to take on WhatsApp, which has more than 200 million users in the country?
While it is too early to predict, the Kimbho app had been downloaded more than 10,000 times from the Google Play store on Wednesday, when TechCircle first checked. By Thursday noon, however, Kimbho couldn't be found on the app store.
However, Patanjali claimed that the Kimbho app was "facing extremely high traffic" and that it was upgrading its servers.
Interestingly, soon after Kimbho was launched, Elliot Anderson, believed to be a French cybersecurity expert, raised security concerns about the app and said that Kimbho had copied another app.
Anderson, who had previously exposed data security concerns in the government's Aadhaar database, said that Kimbho was “a security disaster” and effectively allowed anyone to access the messages of all users.
Patanjali’s future plans with its messenger app and the newly branded SIM cards are not fully known yet. WhatsApp, meanwhile, is set to roll out its payments feature as early as next week.
Patanjali also hasn’t specifically said whether it will enter the payments segment. But if it does, it will face stiff competition not only from WhatsApp but also from Google’s Tez and the government’s own BHIM app, which have been gaining traction in recent months.
The timing of the launch of the messenger app is interesting as it comes just as the country is gearing up for the 2019 general elections in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will seek a second term in office.
“Ramdev’s interests are politico-commercial. This is being done keeping the 2019 elections in mind,” said Sudhir Panwar, a Lucknow-based political analyst, a farm leader and a former member of the Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission.
“In 2014 it was the BJP’s IT cell that managed the poll campaign. Now, platforms like these will also be used. Ramdev’s politics is increasingly indistinguishable from that of Modi’s,” Panwar added.
The 2019 elections notwithstanding, Patanjali’s tie-up with BSNL seems to target Jio, and could further escalate the tariff war in India’s telecom sector, which has been bleeding Jio’s competitors including Bharti Airtel and Idea-Vodafone.
The “Swadeshi Samriddhi SIM cards” will be available in three plans--Rs 144, Rs 792 and Rs 1,584, which will be valid for 30 days, 180 days and 365 days, respectively, and effectively offer 2GB of data per day with unlimited calling. Moreover, they come with a Rs 2.5 lakh medical insurance cover and a life cover of Rs 5 lakh.
Although rivals Bharti Airtel, Idea-Vodafone and Reliance Jio offer competitive rates, they do not offer any insurance plans with their connections.
To be sure, for now the Patanjali-BSNL SIM is available only to Patanjali employees or those registered as part of the so-called “Patanjali Family”. Once the SIM is launched for the general public, consumers having the Patanjali-BSNL connection will get a 10% discount on Patanjali products.