Ramdev: India’s most famous yoga guru clashes with medical community over Covid claims

<p>Ram Kisan Yadav, better known as Ramdev, rose to fame teaching yoga and now heads an alternative medicine empire</p> (Getty Images)

Ram Kisan Yadav, better known as Ramdev, rose to fame teaching yoga and now heads an alternative medicine empire

(Getty Images)

India’s health minister has condemned the country’s most famous yoga guru Ram Kisan Yadav – better known as Ramdev – after he derided medical practitioners and their role in the pandemic.

Ramdev, who rose to fame teaching yoga on TV before launching an alternative medicine empire under the brand Patanjali, has angered doctors by claiming that during the Covid crisis “hundreds of thousands of people died after taking allopathic medicines”, calling modern medicine “stupid” and based on “bankrupt science”.

The Indian Medical Association, which represents 300,000 doctors, called for the yoga guru to be prosecuted under pandemic emergency laws as a threat to public health, and health minister Harsh Vardhan said Ramdev’s comments had “insulted” those fighting Covid on the front lines.

The latter represents a particularly significant intervention, as Mr Vardhan has himself attended the launch of Patanjali products including “Coronil”, which was originally marketed last year as the world’s “first evidence-based medicine” against Covid-19.

The manufacturer was later forced to change its marketing after its claims were disproved. The company continues to promote the product, a tablet containing trace amounts of a blend of roots and herbs, as an “immunity booster”.

The IMA had written in its letter that Ramdev’s “untutored” statements were “a threat to the literate society of the country as well as to the poor people falling prey to him”.

“Ramdev deserves to be prosecuted for causing danger to the lives of many by making them believe not to take the advice of allopathy doctors,” it said.

The Federation of All India Medical Associations (FAIMA) also said it had served a legal notice to Ramdev, condemning the “baseless and unscrupulous claims made for cheap publicity”.

The Patanjali Trust in a statement on Saturday denied the allegations and said Ramdev was merely “reading out” a WhatsApp forward when he made the comments, and that the guru had “utmost regards” for doctors.

Several doctors also took to Twitter to demand strict action against Ramdev, and on Monday night an exchange on a live TV panel went viral after IMA member Dr Jayesh M Lele lambasted the guru for using the controversy to promote his so-called “Covid care kit”. Ramdev appeared on Aaj Tak, a leading Hindi news channel, surrounded by packets of his company’s products.

After the outrage, Mr Vardhan, wrote in a letter in Hindi and issued via the health ministry that he condemned Ramdev’s comments and “hoped” he would withdraw them.

“The people of the country are very hurt with your remark on allopathic medicines. I have already told you about this feeling over the phone. Doctors and health workers are like gods for the people of this country, for whom they are fighting against the coronavirus and risking their lives,” the two-page letter said.

“You have not only insulted Corona warriors, but have hurt the feelings of the people of the country. Your clarification yesterday is not enough to make up for it... I hope you will think hard on it and withdraw your statements completely,” he added.

After the letter from the health minister, Ramdev tweeted: “Received your letter Dr Harsh Vardhan. In that context and to end the whole controversy over the conflict of different treatments, with regrets, I am withdrawing my statement.”

However just hours later he tweeted another letter, posing questions to various medical associations over the effectiveness of modern treatments for ailments like diabetes and hypertension. At the same time he continued retweeting attacks against the IMA’s public statements against him.

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