Ramdev’s rage suits BJP politically


Bharat Bhushan

Ramdev’s business empire benefitted from his proximity to the BJP government

Baba Ramdev’s serial abuse of modern medicine and its practitioners has led to both anger at the persistence of his egregious statements and bewilderment at the government’s inaction. His ‘apology’ for one appalling statement invariably segue into another set of aggressive, malicious and slanderous comments.

Despite doctors protesting against him, the central government is unable to tame him. Instead of initiating legal action against him, it has at best cajoled him to apologise. The ‘apology’ inveigled out of Ramdev was followed by an aggressive “25 questions to allopathic doctors”. His sidekick, Acharya Balkrishna, head of the Ayurvedic business, made a horrendous assertion that the critics of his mentor were part of a “Christian plot” to malign yoga and Ayurveda!

Is the government really helpless before the businessman Baba? Can it advocate universal vaccination when Ramdev openly questions its efficacy asserting that “1,000 doctors have died” after full vaccination? Under public criticism, Ramdev has backtracked and offered up his alter ego, Balkrishna, for vaccination. He deflected the question when asked if he would take the vaccine, with: “Why does a hatta-katta (strong and muscular) man like me need to take anything?”

The Centre can invoke Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act against Ramdev for spreading falsehood and alarm about the Covid pandemic. The Centre has been quick to invoke Section 51 of the same Act against the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, two hours before he was due to retire, for disobedience. So, is the government deliberately turning a blind eye to Ramdev’s misdemeanours?

The Act’s provisions cover spreading fake news and rumours. Ramdev cannot absolve himself by saying he was only reading out a forwarded message when he said that Allopathic medicine was “stupid and bankrupt” and that “more patients have lost their lives due to allopathic medicines than (due to the) lack of medical oxygen or shortage of beds.” The Indian Medical Association has asked the government to act against him under the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act for endangering the life, health and safety of Covid patients.

However, no BJP government either at the Centre or in the states will act against Ramdev. Ramdev knows that there is some public receptivity for his statements, arising from people’s frustration with the pandemic’s devastation. But he misdirects and channels public anger towards modern medicine rather than against the BJP government’s mishandling of the pandemic by populating the public sphere with red herrings.

But the ruling dispensation also values Ramdev for his network of Pantanjali Ayurveda agents/franchisees and yoga disciples. They can be politically leveraged during elections.

In March 2010, Ramdev launched a movement called “Bharat Swabhiman” and declared that he would launch a political party to contest all Lok Sabha seats in 2014. His vast network of supporters and franchisees was obviously part of his political calculation. One might also recall that he was unsuccessfully wooed by Arvind Kejriwal as well. Once Ramdev saw the tide turn in Narendra Modi’s favour in the run-up to the 2014 general election, he threw his weight behind the BJP.

The BJP used Ramdev as a force multiplier in the 2014 election campaign. His contribution to the BJP’s stunning victory was acknowledged by Arun Jaitely. In a hyperbolic statement, he said, “The role played by Ramdev in awakening the voters is similar to the struggles of Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan who stayed away from power.” Amit Shah, then party president, also commended Ramdev’s contribution and promised that his endeavours to promote Ayurveda and yoga would have government support.

That promise was kept. Ramdev’s business empire benefitted from his proximity to the BJP government. BJP chief ministers were open-handed in giving him free public land to set up herbal parks, factories, cowsheds, ‘universities’ and schools. He was given Z-plus security and the Central Industrial Security Force was deployed to guard his private business enterprise at Haridwar. Ramdev’s controversial Coronil for treating Covid-19 was promoted by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and BJP-ruled Haryana has included Coronil in the free Covid-19 kits for public distribution.

The media, especially TV channels, love Ramdev and his oafish antics because they get sackfuls of advertising revenue from his Patanjali Ayurveda. Additionally, unlike other advertisers, Ramdev attracts viewers by his verbal gladiatorial displays.

Ramdev doesn’t lose an opportunity to market his remedies on TV and never fails to name a clutch of his branded products. Or miss an occasion to point to the underbelly of modern medicine – unscrupulous hospitals ordering unnecessary medical tests, overcharging patients and prescribing costly branded medicines.

So, even if he is decried as a snake oil salesman who is damaging the government’s healthcare strategies to control the pandemic, it does not matter to the BJP. It is a price they seem willing to pay for the political capital he brings to the party.

Courtesy Deccan Herald

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