Ramkrishna Yadav or “Baba” Ramdev, as he is known to the public, shot to fame as a yoga teacher on television during the early 2000s. In 2006, he started Patanjali, a company making ayurvedic products.
His significant success with Patanjali combined with a sharp acumen for politics—he is seen to be close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—have allowed him to prosper enormously.
So it comes as no surprise that Ramdev’s statements dismissing the efficiency of modern medicine during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic have been roundly criticised.
On May 22, the Indian Medical Association wrote an angry letter to Ramdev attacking him for his characterisation of modern medicine as a “stupid and bankrupt science.” The yoga guru had blamed drugs such as remdesivir and Fabiflu for the “deaths of lakhs” of people during the pandemic. There no evidence for this claim. In fact, both drugs have been approved for use by the Indian government.
That wasn’t all. In a video that went viral on Monday, Ramdev claimed that more than 10,000 doctors in India have died even after getting both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, the Indian Express newspaper reported.
In another statement, he claimed that the hundreds of deaths in India due to oxygen shortages were actually the fault of the people who had died—they didn’t know “how to breathe properly,” he said.
The Indian Medical Association has demanded that Ramdev be prosecuted under the Epidemic Diseases Act for trying to persuade Indians to avoid scientific medical treatment. But what is even more grave is the fact that that Ramdev’s ayurvedic corporation has itself launched a product called Coronil which claimed, without any firm scientific evidence, that it could cure Covid-19 in “seven days.”
Present at the launch of Coronil in February were two senior ministers from the Modi government: health minister Harsh Vardhan and transport minister Nitin Gadkari. The BJP-ruled state of Haryana is even using public money to purchase Coronil and distribute it to citizens. If Ramdev’s corporate power, status as a spiritual guru and claims to be able to cure Covid-19 were not enough, his close links to the ruling party make his medical disinformation even deadlier.
At a press conference on May 25, Ramdev brushed off calls to prosecute him. “Not even their father will be able to arrest Swami Ramdev,” he said, invoking a Hindi idiom to claim that he was beyond prosecution.
A day earlier, the managing director of Patanjali, Balkrishna, attempted to deflect attention from his colleague’s statements by attempting an act of communal incitement. He claimed in a tweet that that the Indian Medical Association’s criticism of Ramdev’s misinformation was actually a “part of the conspiracy to convert the entire country to Christianity.”
In a country in which many are still uneducated, for an influential, politically-connected spiritual guru to push disinformation that promotes vaccine hesitancy and turns people away from modern medicine is irresponsible at the best of times. To do so when India is in the middle of a second wave, with the country hit harder by Covid-19 than any other, is life-threatening.
It is worth recalling that when Ramdev and Balkrishna had health problems themselves, both sought to be treated by evidence-based medicine. However, when it comes to the health of millions of Indians during a pandemic, Ramdev is trashing science and pushing methods that have no scientific backing.