Baba Ramdev has been probably most successful of god men of recent times. He claims to have a following of over a billion people. There are an infinite number of people claiming that his yoga therapy and medicines work wonders for their health. Baba in a short span of time has built a multi million empire, his Trust is owning series of Ashrams, ayurvedic drug factories, yoga training centers and many such things, in India and abroad. Overall the medicines prescribed-marketed by him are selling like hot cakes. He himself adorns the divine status and his followers also regard him so, a saint, above the worldly matters. His saffron robes are a symbol of renunciation as such. All this is remarkable, good of both the Worlds, as he is not only wearing divine halo but is also presiding over the empire running into hundreds of crores of rupees built in last decade or so and now entering politics too.
In our country where currently rational thought and scientific thinking has been pushed to the back foot, the claims that his methods are scientific go unchallenged by and large. As per him he can cure Cancer, AIDS and what have you. He also states that homosexuality is a disease, something for which he has a yogic cure. Earlier he had a spat with Brinda Karat, on the issue of contents of the medicines, powder of animal bones in the samples from his factories and on the issue of wages for the workers. Baba claiming to base his Yoga on scientific ground angrily dismissed the issues raised by Brinda Karat, and one does not know what happened to the wage issue of the workers of his factory.
There are not many who can dare to raise legitimate question in the public domain about what is science? What is the method of science and whether mere reading and following of scriptures can be called as scientific? The issues related to the role of double blind trials, biochemical analysis, pharmaceutical composition and their side effects cannot be raised, as in doing so one can be easily labeled as anti Hindu-Anti religious deviant. The garb of Holy clothes is the best defense against all the legitimate questions. So what is projected to be working successfully can also be asserted to be a scientific practice. One would expect that the tall claims like curing cancer and AIDS, need to be questioned as many may get misled and loose the precious time which a medical intervention can play in a positive way.
One concedes that there must be some benefits due to things practiced by Baba and the likes of him, but these need to be regulated and peer reviewed to avoid their misuse in the society at large. Science is not a monopoly of anybody and peer review and evaluation is the best regulator for decisions about medications-practices for society. This is indispensable to avoid the harm, in short term or long term sense. Divinity should not be permitted to protect the real social issues involved.
Lately Baba has been in the news not for divine or yogic reasons, but for the profane issues related to corruption, and his forming a political party which will fight the elections. While the crusade against corruption is welcome as such, one observes that his sayings about corruption are restricted to one political party. This is a partisan view, an attempt to hide the corrupt practices of other political parties and other actors involved in the issue of corruption. He is scathing against Congress on the issue of corruption and is silent about BJP’s corruption. He is vocal about something and quiet about the corruption of rich who are equal partners in this social evil. This may indicate that the saffron clothes are being used for the goals of helping the communal party and the rich.
As such corruption has more to do with unbridled power, absence of transparency and lack of social audit on the economic transactions and policies. To link it with few political actors is an attempt to hide those who give the bribes to get their work done. A principled stand will also be to ensure that all the donations coming to the Ahsrams of Baba and his types belong to the category of what is ‘accounted money’! Hope Baba has already taken care of this point before starting his campaign against corruption.
Generally the ‘divine’ people have to be standing for peace and harmony. One recalls that in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, Baba had exhorted Indian Government to attack Pakistan, and that he will fund the war against Pakistan. One shudders to think of war mongers and that too with those having divine claims leading our political affairs. The current times have been the one where the politics has been wearing the clothes of religious identity. Baba is going one step ahead. He is trying to ride on two horses, the one of spirituality-religion and the other of entrepreneur-politician, at the same time. His association with those who have done politics by abusing religious identity, the communalists, is very clear. That may be the reason as to why he is creating hysteria around corruption by one political party rather than against corruption as a phenomenon related to our socio-political structure.
Ram Puniyani was a Professorof Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai and works keenly on social issues. He is the author of three books including Communal Politics: An illustrated primer.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.