Politics & Culture – As Business Racket

coronil patanjali
Baba Ramdev launching his COVID-19 ‘treatment kit’. Photo: PTI

After taking the duo of Ram Dev and Balakrishnan a few notches down through a harrowing couple of rounds of severe judicial scrutiny on their crime of putting out false and misleading claims on their advertisements about the miraculous potency  of their Patanjali brands of medicines,  including dangerous propaganda on Coronil as efficacious cure for Covid 19, the Supreme Court has let them off the hook with heavy fines and a consoling word of praise for their promotion of Yoga.They must have thought it had been a lucky escape.

Though people with good sense were relieved and pleased with the verdict, many felt that the rather harsh rebuke directed at the IMA president for balance had been uncalled for.He had clearly erred by commenting on a sub judice matter,but had not been guilty of a misconduct on the same scale of criminality.

Baba Ram Dev had gained his present stature with his practical espousal of Yoga in the years before 2014 and his simple but soothing words on spiritual peace and calm at a time of deep disillusionment  with scientific reason accompanying the chorus of moans  for a life of harmony with nature.(Later evidence of massive onslaught on nature and mass destruction of trees and forests in Assam and Uttarakhand as the end-product of such campaigns is unhelpful noise) .The country had by then slipped  into a phase of weariness with liberal democratic slogans,as these had failed to bring about proclaimed results to a significant degree.Anuradha Podwal chanted the Gayatri Mantra of the Vedas on cassette  successfully eluding the destined curse,the air was abuzz with several Babas and Gurus hawking their spiritual wares with inspired gusto along  with innuendos against rivals thrown in.And postmodernism had settled on the campuses like a new academic orthodoxy.A time when the market for spirituality was humming.

It had been the environment when Ram Dev had started charming millions both online on TV and offline in numerous massive rallies in major cities of the country.There he exuded charm and  persuasiveness as he demonstrated the need for a change in our way of life with such basic ingredients as Yoga and vegetarian meals and a general restoration of spirituality.

He spoke vehemently against multinationals for looting our credulous people with expensive drugs.All this seemed to be in tune with the traditions of the country and common sense as well as the prevailing mood.The critics were snubbed for their pains.

At that time he had not betrayed animosity against Muslims.Indeed some of them attended his rallies and thought he was a tolerant secular minded spiritual sage.A Muslim friend had met him during his visit to Guwahati and found him gracious,kind and without prejudice.

Then came the electrifying Anna Hazare moment,commencing  with a rally in Delhi with massive popular participation.Willy-nilly political parties came and addressed the crowd.A celebrity like actor Amir Khan joined and held aloft the national flag with a mesmerized look on his face.Later reports said that there was a free  supply of drinking water and tiffin to the milling crowd from RSS affiliates.

As though that crusade against corruption would cleanse the body politic of all polluting muck of corruption.Anna Hazare spoke like a moral prophet and threatened dire punishment on all who departed from the straight and narrow path.

Baba Ramdev flew in to lend yogic armour to the crusaders.At that turn of events a nervous UPA government tried to hijack him from the airport and deputed two senior Ministers including later President Pranab Mukherjee to escort him honourably  from the airport.But a chagrined Ram Dev eluded them and arrived at the sacred spot.His remarks there seem to have flustered the government and this time they sent the police to arrest him! Ram Dev escaped their net in  women’s clothes.The roller-coaster unfolding of the drama provided good copy to the press.

But in an unforeseen twist in the trend of events Narendra Modi came to power to the hosannahs of many columnists and raptures of people who thought he would cure the republic of all the accumulated ills of “sixty years of Congress misrule”.What followed is common knowledge though people dare not speak openly about it except during an election melee.

This background is important to understand and assess the Ram Dev phenomenon.His close relations with BJP and RSS then came to light.He started looking less saintly and more down to earth, visibly more relaxed in the company of kindred souls. Not only him,but other messengers from the ethereal world of the spirit like Ravishankar shed their ambiguous political identity and wore the Saffron outfit with relief.While that swept away the tantalizing wisps of mist from the scene,for the first time secular republic  was under the control of a political party committed to Hindu Rashtra.

Its implications soon began to be unravelled in disturbing scenes like the attack on JNU by masked hooligans and the discharge and acquittal of people long  held in prison for gross abuse of power as well as heinous murder.Suddenly religious minorities found themselves under vicious threat and without the normal protection provided by the state.Individuals were killed and then charged with heinous crimes.Thugs and hoods enjoyed impunity if their violence had religious sanction.The common man quailed,shut his eyes to such scenes and either retired into silence or joined the rapturous chorus in praise of the new Prime Minister.

 Baba Ram Dev came into his own in this environment.His yogic communications had now yielded to absorption in founding and running Ayurvedic medicines as his vocation.And few of them had lower prices than drugs produced by MNCs.And he used his popularity to publicise and popularize his brands on stages and platforms accessible to him thanks to Yoga.

At this point his connections with the top brass of the government and the party made the vital difference with rivals who had similar businesses.His firm soon soared into regions of thousand-crores output and turnover.He soon branched out into packaged food,cosmetics and even a certain range of ‘natural’  pharmaceuticals like the Gonyle, a rival product to the chemical germicide Phenyle. Gonyle was touted as more effective as its main ingredient was the miraculous ‘Gomutra’ or cow’s urine.

Free now from the burden of keeping up a benevolent appearance he went on to declare to the masses of followers that if he had a sword he would slaughter a hundred Muslims if they failed to pronounce “Jay Shriram”. Advertisements about Coronil had after all been in line of business.

If the honourable judges had chosen to sweeten the bitter pill by alluding  to his past yogic services they probably did not intend to leave him on the brink of an abyss.But people of sense must wake up today to the danger from potent new mixture of religion,therapy and money.The invisible stuff running the world turns out not to be spirit but money.And the insiders say, all is fair in love,war and business.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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