From BFFs to frenemies, Ramdev’s fickle relationship with Narendra Modi

Good times.
Good times.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Ramdev’s association and tilt towards BJP’s philosophy is no secret and the yoga guru has been quite candid about it. He is personally close to several BJP chief ministers—Manohar Lal Khattar, Devendra Fadnavis, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, and Sarbananda Sonowal. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he openly extended support to Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial candidature.

But in the last two years, though Ramdev’s business empire has grown manifold with support from BJP-led government in several states, his relationship with Modi has witnessed several mood swings. His influence over the Prime Minister could be gauged from the fact that a chance meeting with the yoga guru in a flight to Kolkata earned singer Babul Supriyo not only a BJP ticket but also a ministerial berth later. In February 2015, Modi announced that the income of yoga-related charitable trusts would be exempted from service tax. Ramdev has often praised Modi for what he has done for popularizing yoga. “AYUSH Ministry has been formed. With his capacity Modiji got international recognition for yoga. Both at international and political level the recognition itself is a huge achievement. Now AYUSH Ministry must devote attention towards research,” said Ramdev.

But in December 2016, when he was asked in an interview if he was happy with the NDA government’s performance so far, he said, “A yogi should neither be happy nor unhappy. I am stuck somewhere in the middle.” Unlike in the past, Baba’s praise for Modi was reserved. He was not willing to bat for Modi the way he used to do earlier against all bouncers. In February 2017, at a press conference in Haridwar, he said that he had supported Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because Modi was against black money and corruption. If the Congress seeks his support in national interest then he is ready to support it. His unhappiness with Modi could stem from various developments. The Prime Minister is yet to clear his proposal for a Vedic education board. Modi government has rejected his proposal that Patanjali Yogpeeth be given full control of khadi marketing and management across the country. But his biggest grudge against the Modi government has been its failure to tackle the black money issue the way it had been envisaged by the yoga guru.


The first sign of discontent came in November 2015. The yoga guru had conceded that the menace of black money had increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. “Yeh (black money) badhta hi jaa raha hai, yeh multiply hota jaa raha hai (It keeps increasing). People are stashing black money through tax avoidance as well.” In May 2016, he attacked the government saying that its inability to bring back black money stashed abroad is leading to “frustration” among people. In Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain, he said he was silent on the issue of black money because the Central government had failed to get it back to the country from foreign banks. “Kala dhan nahi aaya isliye is par baat karna band kar diya (The black money couldn’t be brought back, therefore I stopped talking about it).” However, hours later, he appeared to have realized that his comments maybe construed as damaging to the Central government, prompting Ramdev to quickly issue a clarification. According to a TV channel, Ramdev later said that he was confident of the Narendra Modi government bringing back black money to India. Later in Delhi, he said: “Wherever I go people say ask me: ‘Baba has the black money been brought back?’ So, there are some issues like the black money which leads to frustration among people (against the Narendra Modi government),” he said. When reminded about Modi’s promise of transferring Rs15 lakh to every Indian’s bank account, Ramdev said in an interview to ABP News channel, “It was for Modiji to decide how soon he intended to fulfil his promise.”

Speaking to India TV, he said: “It is true that the amount of offshore black money that was expected to be brought back did not come. There is a need to speed up efforts.” In June 2016, he continued his attack on Modi government. “Because of lack of effective steps (by the government) on the black money issue, I and people in the country are dissatisfied.” In January 2017, when reporters in Raipur, where he had gone for a yoga camp, asked him when the country would see the Prime Minister fulfilling his promise of achhe din (good days), the baba quipped: “Practice yoga.” “No politician or political party can bring achhe din. One who practises yoga will be able to bring achhe din. Yoga can turn every day into achhe din. We will have to work ourselves to get the feeling of achhe din. And for this, perform yoga in the morning and later do hard work during the day.”

Despite all these public comments, Ramdev has always maintained that he had no rift with Modi. “I have known (Narendra) Modiji for fifteen years, and we have had some meetings before the 2014 elections. During those meetings, he told me that he supported my vision for a beautiful India by rooting out black money, not 100 per cent but 200 per cent. Because of my resolution to provide the country with a strong political alternative and as I came to realize that Modiji was that alternative, I put all my trust in him as has the rest of the country. We all hope and believe that he will prove to be the most successful prime minister the country has ever seen. You form an emotional attachment with some people in your lives, and that’s what I have with Modiji. I don’t represent any party and never will. Our friendship is based on a commonality of thought, principles, ideology and policies. And that would be the case with anyone, irrespective of his or her party,” he told The Indian Express in December 2016.

His frustration with Modi was evident when he made a veiled attack on the Prime Minister during an interaction with journalists from The Indian Express. When he was asked about Indian army’s surgical strike at terror camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Ramdev subtly hinted that Modi had failed on two accounts—black money and poverty alleviation. “Eliminating the evil is not violence. I think (prime minister Narendra) Modiji will also decimate Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed, so that people of this country forget any grudges they have with him with regard to black money and poverty alleviation.” When I asked him about his equation with the Prime Minister and the growing perception that the two have been drifting apart, he laughed uproariously. Then he composed himself and said: “Why do you think I need any personal favour from Modi? I did not support him because I wanted something from him. He is the best we can have now. He is doing a good job. I’m a fakir and I don’t want to meddle in the affairs of governance. Whenever I have raised any issue, I have represented the public voice, not my personal demands. I could have interfered in the functioning of Modi government with my influence. I never did it. Even Prime Minister Modi asked me how I could withdraw so much.”

Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications India from the book The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon: From Moksha to Market by Kaushik Deka.