The needle seems to have shifted somewhat in the relationship of the Modi government with its resident Rasputin, Baba Ramdev. Considering that Narendra Modi had trusted him enough to lodge his wife in Ramdev's ashram during the 2014 campaign to keep her out of the reach of the nosy media and Ramdev had been so bouncy about Modi's victory and so sure that all the black money stashed abroad over the years would return, it was clear that Ramdev had a special relationship with the current regime.
However, the Coronavirus crisis seems to be proving otherwise. Not only did the government not allow or endorse the use of the quackery promoted by so many unauthenticated people practising in the name of Ayurved, it is the BJP- led Union and Uttarakhand governments which have now completely killed his so-called remedies for Coronavirus.
For the first time I can be happy that this government and the AYUSH ministry have done the right thing. Ramdev has been very ingenious and inventive. At the start of the Coronavirus crisis, he tried to pass off mustard oil as a surefire cure for the disease - put it in your nose and breathe it in. It will reach the stomach and kill the virus with its acidity, he said.
I wondered if he knew the virus caused a breathing disorder and affected the lungs, getting in not just through the nose but also eyes and mouth. Or that it morphed and affected different people in different ways. Of course, the mustard oil remedy did not take even those believing in home remedies by storm. But now what is appalling is how he could cold-bloodedly market two tablets as sure shot cures for Coronavirus when all that they are actually are immunity-boosters for ordinary coughs and common cold. Which might not be such a bad thing if they are promoted as such, for the past months have demonstrated that there is only one common denominator in surviving the Coronavirus – immunity. There have been cases all over of even nonogerarians surviving the infection while far younger people, including some teenagers, have succumbed.
Many doctors have come to the conclusion that it is the immunity factor that has counted – why older people have been vulnerable is because of a natural lack of immunity as you grow older. You need amino acids (available from sprouts), vitamin C and D (available from regular consumption of lemon juice and absorption or exposure to sunlight respectively) and a fair amount of zinc (natural source are papaya and watermelon seeds which should be eaten and not discarded as waste) that boosts the immunity in human beings.
Ramdev's latest products, however, do not seem to contain much of these natural ingredients. But what they do, as he demonstrated at a press conference, are the usual ingredients that might prevent a cough and cold. How far they could be a shield against COVID-19 will require a far more intensive study than his Patanjali Ayurved seems to have conducted. It is very dangerous to pass this off as a sure-shot cure for it could actually kill the gullible who might choose to rely on these newest drugs rather than seek proper medical care that might be more expensive and out of their reach.
So, the union government was right in forbidding any advertisements about the new drugs before they are tested and proven to do what Ramdev claims they would do. But even before laboratories could test the drug, the Uttarakhand government has told us, the drugs were a result of an application for remedies to prevent coughs and cold and nowhere was there any claim that these drugs were being manufactured to treat Coronavirus!
Which then brings me back to my distrust of all so-called gurus who by and large, I have noticed, are exploiters of the gullible, not just with regard to medical remedies but also spiritual and other salvation. Ramdev's decision to popularise ancient medical remedies had me charmed for a while but then I discovered the fault lines – apart from all other products that might not match up to the claims, wasn't there one that claimed clinical tests had proved that you get gold out of gomutra? Now that really turned me off, because while genuine Ayurvedic products could be based in science, gold in gomutra is clearly the product of somebody's imagination and a clear attempt at conning the gullible.
The government has been right in slamming the brakes on this latest dissembling by Ramdev because there is a lot at stake here. Apart from the attempt to fool the gullible people, the government would be well aware of the punishing tests that such remedies have to go through and the international consequences of passing off a cure for the common cold as one for the killer disease.
Then again, the Indian Council of Medical Research has already turned down an earlier proposal to test the powers of Gangajal in curing Coronavirus - I am appalled that it should have even been made – and we now know how those who consumed gomutra as a cure ended up in hospital with more complications than just a breathing disorder.
Ramdev should have known about the intense efforts internationally to find a vaccine and how India would face excruciating embarrassment if his drugs were put to scrutiny. Tests for vaccines will require at least a year – if not the usual five – to come to any sort of conclusion. But we have been so gullible and taken in by such quackery over the years that it is not surprising that he should have tried to pass off the latest drugs as a cure for something that is defying the whole world, including the Chinese with their own access to ancient remedies, for months.
However, the Ayush ministry and Uttarakhand government’s prompt denials, considering how they have helped him in the past to promote his products, do tell me that something is not quite right between Baba Ramdev and the Modi government.
Whatever be the cause of that dissension, I think it is a blessing in disguise for the rest of us. At least we will not die of fakery and quackery. I will wait personally for the vaccine from an authentic pharma company however long that takes. Until then it is the practice of the old adage - prevention is better than (fake) cures!
(The views expressed are the author’s own)