Swami Ramdev also known as Baba Ramdev—one of the founders of Divya Yoga Mandir—is known for his efforts in popularising yoga and Ayurveda. Born in the Mahendragarh District in Haryana and inspired by Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’ and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Baba Ramdev completed middle education from Shahjadpur (Haryana), and joined Aarsh (Arya) Gurukul, Khanpur and studied Sanskrit and Yog under the guidance of Achary Pradumn. Eventually, when he came in the contact of another Saint Achary Baldevji, he renounced worldly life and entered into sanyas, changing his name from Ram Krishna to Swami Ramdev.
He shot to fame after starting the Divya Yog Mandir Trust. In 2003, Aastha TV started featuring him in its morning yoga slot. Within a few years, he had a cult following. It is claimed that over 85 million people follow his yoga camps via TV channels and videos. Not only has he gained popularity for his teachings of yoga and pranayama, but also for his public stance on a number of political and medical issues. However, nothing he does or says could keep him away from controversies.
In March 2005, about 110 employees of the Divya Yoga Mandir Trust went on an indefinite strike demanding better wages, when they were sacked, under the Provident Fund and Employees’ State Insurance Scheme. At a tripartite meeting, an agreement was reached between the workers, management and the district administration. However, some agitating workers were dismissed by the Trust after being charged for alleged sabotage.
In January 2006, Brinda Karat, senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) accused the Divya Yog Mandir Trust Pharmacy, owned by Swami Ramdev, of using human and animal bones in their medicines. Samples of the medicines Kuliya Bhasm and Yauvanamrit Bati purchased from Brahmakalp Chikitsalay—the trust’s hospital at Haridwar—were tested at government labs which later confirmed the presence of animal materials in the sample. She exhibited the prescription and cash receipt obtained from the medicine counter in support of her claim.
“The impotency drug contains testicles of animals, crushed to powder. (Human) bone and skull powder was also detected,” Karat told journalists in Delhi. “Using the popularity of television channels, he is selling drugs which are adulterated. This is a huge breach of trust to his followers.” Karat demanded that the pharmacy be brought under Factories Act, since it was manufacturing medicines in bulk for sale so that daily-wage workers—who were paid Rs 1,200 per month for working for 12 hours daily—be paid adequately.
Baba Ramdev, however, had dismissed the allegations, describing them as a “conspiracy”. He said he was being framed by international companies who were opposed to his indigenous medicines. He also said the samples could have been doctored.
Later, four samples were sent to the government-recognised Shriram Institute of Industrial Research in Delhi. The report declared that the samples did not contain human or animal bones and were purely herbal. Swami Ramdev was subsequently cleared of the charges. Notably, Ayurvedic texts allow the uses of animal-based substances in the manufacture of some of the Ayurvedic medicines. However, according to Karat, the laws related to proper labelling of medicines had not been followed.
In 2006, the following comment from Swami Ramdev drew the wrath of some political activists, while imparting yoga training to army personnel in Jabalpur. He said: “I am a follower of penance, sacrifice, non-violence and truth. But I am also a follower of revolutionaries. I live a simple life. I don’t do what everyone else does. But I believe that the freedom of our country is because of the sacrifice of our martyrs. If somebody says that the country achieved independence without arms, without bloodshed, I believe that is an insult to the country’s martyrs.”
Gandhiji’s followers and Congress Party activists were quick to snap. They charged Baba Ramdev for insulting the Father of the Nation. Youth workers of the Congress burnt posters of Baba Ramdev and shouted slogans against him, saying that he should concentrate on yoga only.
Some media reports quoted him pronouncing to have a cure for cancer of breast, liver, prostate, uterus, pituitary gland, brain tumor and leukemia, by practicing the seven breathing exercises. In a residential camp held in Yog Gram, Haridwar during June 19-25, 2008, several cancer patients stepped forward to narrate stories of their successful bouts with blood, prostrate and breast cancer using Pranayama or breathing exercises. Though Baba Ramdev has claimed having documented proof of his successes, he could not reportedly substantiate his claim to efficient authorities.
In December 2006, Swami Ramdev had claimed to cure chronic diseases like AIDS through yoga and ayurvedic treatments. He also went on to suggest that sex education should be substituted by yoga, which would increase the awareness about AIDS, its prevention and cure. “Sex education in schools needs to be replaced by yoga education,” Ramdev had told the media.
As an outcome of these public statements, he was sent a notice by the Indian Union Health Ministry to make sure he doesn’t make any such claims in the future. However, while addressing to the media, Baba said: “I have never made claims that I could cure diseases and I don’t believe in magic. People suffering from diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease who have benefited from yoga have made these claims.”
In July 2009, when the Delhi High Court gave a judgment under decriminalising homosexuality in Delhi, Baba Ramdev said in a press conference: “The verdict of the court will encourage criminality and sick mentality. This kind of thing is shameful and insulting. We are blindly following the West in everything. This is breaking the family system in India. Homosexuals are sick people, they should be sent to hospitals for treatment. If the government brings this law, I will take this matter to the streets of Delhi in protest.”
While addressing the public at a rally Baba said: “Our economy has a huge amount of black money. The government is not doing anything to stop this or to get back the money stashed in Swiss banks. This is a massive amount, which means that every family in this country would get Rs 2.5 lakh. Each district could get Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000 crore for development. Each village would get Rs 100 crore. It could take our country ahead of many developed nations overnight.” In this foray, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh advised Baba Ramdev not to point fingers at others, unless he wants to bring his own “empire” under the scanner. According to media reports, Baba has built an empire of Rs 11,000 crore. The total earnings from nationwide camps are around Rs 50 crore. The empire earns Rs 50 crore from sale of medicines and Rs 2.3 crore from sale of books/CDs. The trust is also developing a food park in Haridwar with proposed investment of Rs 500 crore. The empire also has 300 acres on Little Cumbrae Island, off the Scottish coast, gifted by an NRI couple worth Rs 17 crore. Baba confirmed the figure in a television interview.
During his “Swabhiman Yatra” in Sehore District of Madhya Pradesh on May 31, 2011, Baba Ramdev said that the Prime Minister should be excluded from the purview of the proposed Lokap Bill. He said: “It is a very complicated question whether the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India should be brought under Lokpal Bill or not. The person who decides the fate of 121 crore people in democracy should not be given into the hands of bureaucrats.”
Though Congress has asked its leaders to remain silent on the Ramdev issue, Digvijay Singh, on the other hand, said: “If the Congress was uncomfortable with Baba Ramdev, we would have jailed him long back. He is more of an industrialist than a spiritual guru.” Senior leader Rashid Alvi accompanied Digvijay Singh saying: “Baba Ramdev’s method is completely wrong. It is weakening the parliamentary system. He should account for his Rs 11,000 crore … where did it come from? People come to him to learn yoga, not to fulfil his political ambitions. He is exploiting his followers.”
Baba Ramdev has reiterated his decision to go on a fast unto death on June 4 at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan and launching a campaign against black money. “I have the support of the people. The campaign is against corruption, to bring a change in the system. … I can proceed with talks with government when on fast as well,” Ramdev said.
By Tulika Rattan