He claims to ‘cure’ homosexuality. He manufactures ‘medicine’ that can help women give birth to a male child. And now he is certain he has found a ‘cure’ for Covid-19, even though doctors and medical researchers world over are exercising extreme caution about their supposed vaccines despite several rounds of testing. But not businessman Ramdev. Exactly a month after starting trials on Covid-19 patients to test an Ayurvedic concoction named ‘Coronil’, Ramdev on Tuesday launched a blitzkrieg on TV and in newspapers, promoting the kit that is priced at Rs 545.
Within hours of the product launch, the AYUSH Ministry asked Patanjali to stop advertising the drug, but Ramdev was steadfast in his defence that he has all the approvals. Later, the licence officer in the Uttarakhand Ayurveda Department revealed that Patanjali’s “application didn’t mention coronavirus”.
As per Patanjali's application, we issued them license. They didn't mention coronavirus, we only approved license for immunity booster, cough & fever. We'll issue them a notice asking how they got permission to make the kit (for COVID19): Licence Officer, Uttarakhand Ayurved Dept pic.twitter.com/I7CWKoJhbK
— ANI (@ANI) June 24, 2020
What is it about Ramdev and Patanjali that makes the Narendra Modi government and the middle-class Indians accept their tall claims and somewhat questionable medical practices? Covid-19 is not a mild irritant that the effects of quackery can be ignored.
During a news debate on Coronil’s launch, AYUSH Minister Shripad Naik kept repeating the same thing about ‘waiting’ for Patanjali’s documents before commenting on whether Ramdev’s company had violated protocols for clinical trials, which were conducted “only on young and healthy patients and not on high-risk ones such as the elderly or those with co-morbidities”. Naik even said that the notice to Patanjali is only to seek clarification and that his government “actually wants to help them”.
Why is Lala Ramdev not arrested yet and why isn't Patanjali's license not suspended pending inquiry since the Uttarakhand Ayurveda Dept has exposed the company's fraud?
— Abhishek Baxi (@baxiabhishek) June 24, 2020
Ayurveda and Hinduism
Patanjali serves and fulfils the Hindu Right wish of mainstreaming Ayurveda, an alternate system of medicine. Dhanvantari, an avatar of Hindu god Vishnu, is associated with Ayurveda. Patanjali’s positioning accords it an instant pass on contentious claims. Not only that, it probably lends Ramdev a proximity to the government. In May 2017, PM Modi had even inaugurated a multi-crore research centre of Patanjali, where Ramdev had honoured him with the title of “Rashtra Rishi”.
Famous for popularising yoga, Ramdev’s reach among the middle-class households is further strengthened with Patanjali’s Ayurvedic products, which makes his dubious claims about ‘Coronil’ more dangerous. For decades, Indian households have resorted to easily procured Ayurvedic treatment for fever, cough and other minor ailments. The expensive allopathic medicine and accessing healthcare in private hospitals is out of reach for many. In such scenarios, Ayurvedic medicines, which are harmless and come with the added religious association, become more agreeable.
Which is why presenting ‘Coronil’ as a cure for coronavirus could have disastrous effects on many — people who will choose it over going to the doctor or alerting others, people who will believe it is best for them without researching the product, and people who will fall for its misleading advertising.
In December 2016, Patanjali was fined Rs 11 lakh for “misleading ads”, “misbranding” and “misrepresentation” of its products. This was done after samples of Patanjali honey, salt, mustard oil, jam and besan failed to meet quality standards. This was after advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), had already pulled up ‘Patanjali Dant Kanti’ for “misleading” and “unsubstantiated” ads in July earlier that year.
In April 2017, the Indian military suspended the sale of a popular Patanjali’s Ayurvedic Amla juice to soldiers after the product tested unfit for “consumption.” That same month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Haryana judged Patanjali cow ghee as “substandard and unsafe”.
These are only a few of Patanjali’s golden products found to be misleading and misbranded.
Earlier, the government data shared in the Lok Sabha revealed that complaints had been received against 33 of Patanjali’s advertisements between April 2015-July 2016.
Not only that, Patanjali founder Ramdev has called homosexuality a “genetic disease”. His doctors at Patanjali’s medical stores have been found judging homosexuality as “a mental disorder” that can be cured by, among other things, “staring at the sun through flowing water”, “putting almond oil in the nostrils”, and “thinking differently”.
With ‘Coronil’, Ramdev is once again trying to lure the emotions of middle-class families, for the purpose of expanding his empire. But it serves another purpose — it offers the Hindu Right a way to assert its claim of being ‘the first’ to find a ‘cure’ for the coronavirus even as renowned medical scientists around the world struggle to come up with a vaccine. Over the last few years, all past glories, discoveries and achievements have been put at the feet of Hinduism. From aeroplane (‘pushpak viman’) to ‘plastic surgery’, scientific successes have been adjudged as the brainchild of a Hindu mind.
Ramdev with his Ayurvedic empire fits neatly into this pattern and his ‘Coronil’ is just an extension of that. It reaffirms the average Hindu belief that Ayurveda has the solution for everything. And the Covid pandemic is perhaps the biggest chance to make that claim travel world-wide.
This is what Ramdev’s quick call to launch ‘Coronil’ aims to achieve — to be the first to make the claim. The larger crowd is not bothered about the efficacy of the claim anyway. For it, anything that Ramdev says is truth that doesn’t need any verification.
The AYUSH Ministry’s response won’t take away from Ramdev’s credibilities and he will be out with another product in a few months. It’s a win-win situation.
Views are personal.