Who is this Baba Ramdev? – Rahul Bhatia

Rahul Bhatia“Right now, as Ramdev looms in the political arena, and threatens to find for himself a larger role, the vocabulary about him is purely political. By dint of simply existing in the middle of a large and important current event, discussions about him have been reduced to the now, and the tomorrow. But what he has done and said before matters, and might be the most important thing of all: Ramdev, with his extreme views and silly recommendations, is a fascinating character on television, but off it, in real life, he’s a frightening one.” – Rahul Bhatia

Baba Ramdev In the middle of August, as Anna Hazare exited stage left, Baba Ramdev finally stepped to the centre of the clangorous anti-corruption campaign. The made-for-television concerns of the day remained the same—systemic graft, black money—but the threats were sharper, and noticeably more political. The Centre is formed of a coalition of parties with disparate and unclear agendas, but Ramdev singled out the United Progressive Alliance’s biggest slice. “We will now go from village to village telling them maybe Congress people own this black money and so they do not want to declare it a national asset.”

Until at least 2008, Ramdev held back from revealing a political leaning. He restricted himself to issuing social remedies: calling for the ban of allopathic medicine, promoting yoga as a cure for AIDS and advising the export of “surplus population”. Politically he traded in pablum, proposing to clear the system of “deadwood”.

Baba Ramdev with Arvind Kejriwal, Gopal Rai, Manish Sisodia and Anna HazareSo on 13 August, when Ramdev courted arrest by marching to Parliament, a businessman in Dubai had reason to watch him with interest on television. Kirit C Mehta, who at one time had an amicable relationship with Ramdev, parted ways with him wishing they had never met. Which explains why he now lives at a safe enough distance to observe his tormentor closely. “I know exactly what his role in politics is going to be,” Mehta told me of Ramdev. “I challenged him on Twitter, saying he’s not going to start his own political party. He’s talking about these things today, openly. His true colours are coming out now. But I’ve known these things for two years, two-and-a-half years.” He keeps a file on Ramdev, reading practically everything printed about him—even going so far as remembering mistakes in articles.

Kirit C. MehtaMehta has led a storied life. Before he became known in spiritual TV circles as the man who rang up Disha, a spiritual TV channel on a phone-in programme, and announced, in lurid and live detail, how Ramdev cheated him out of his company, Mehta was considered something of a pioneer of spiritual broadcasting in India.

Mehta began Aastha, a television channel that covered sermons by the leading gurus of the day, in 2000. Three years later he met Ramdev. Mehta, who was looking for talent then, gave Ramdev a miss, but Sanskar TV, a newer rival in the segment, brought him on board. When Mehta saw Ramdev on Sanskar, he convinced him to leave Sanskar for Aastha.

Ramdev quickly built a sizeable and fervent following with television sermons on Aastha broadcast across the country and outside of it. He was contracted to perform on a cruise liner, he travelled across Southeast Asia, and even spoke at a spiritual conference that had the Dalai Lama among its guests. In time, he leaped effortlessly from prescribing healthy living to encouraging the abdication of science: Breathing, Ramdev has said, “is the perfect nano medicine”.

Aastha TV“My wife was the content head of the channel,” Mehta said. It was her job to ensure that “no one said anything bad about anyone else”. Mehta maintained that the channel, particular about avoiding potentially controversial content, took many programmes off air. It hurt revenues. “Even with Ramdev, we stopped him from making anti-multinational comments. He used to do all that those days, ‘Coca Cola bandh kar do, toilet cleaner hai, bandh kar do’, and all that.”

“But as his influence grew in the channel…” and here Mehta paused, trying to find the right words, “because of the support we gave him, he took advantage of that.” The pitch of his voice rose: “We brought him in as a partner, and he took over the channel!”


Baba Ramdev“He converted the other shareholders,” Mehta alleged. “I had a controlling interest, but my shares were non-tradeable, because they were not listed.” Mehta wasn’t being entirely frank. Aastha was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, and it caught the regulator’s attention in 2001 after the price of its shares inexplicably rose 300 percent in three months. SEBI found that equity was issued privately, and illegally, when Mehta was at the helm of the company. Shares were frozen. Then there were Aastha’s growing losses to reckon with. In December 2007, Mehta sold the domestic component of the business to a company managed by Ramdev’s aides.

According to Mehta, Ramdev, through his proxies, didn’t just want one part of the business, he wanted it all. On Ramdev’s insistence, Mehta and other partners in the company visited his ashram at Patanjali. It dawned on Mehta that this was going to be unpleasant. “He threatened me clearly,” Mehta claimed. “[He said] ‘unless and until you sign this, you will not be able to live in this world.’ In very clear terms. RamdevThe others heard, and that’s what got them afraid. That is how they cooperated with him.”

Mehta fled the country for the United Arab Emirates. His wife was treated for cancer in Dubai, and he saw his years away from India, and his business interests here, as a kind of sabbatical. He said he was seeking funding to start a new venture.

I asked him if his association with Ramdev gave him any insight into what he could be planning next. “You have to see him in private. He’s going to expose himself more and more. I’m waiting to see him,” Mehta said. “Once he has power, the NDA and all these other guys will see how difficult it is to control him. He’ll ban everything—toothpastes, Coca Cola. We’ll be reverting to the Stone Age. Today he said he will do the tervi [thirteenth day rites] of the Congress and that their arthi is ready. What sort of holy man, even at a low-level, says this kind of thing about their sworn enemy? Now that is something nobody is questioning him about. Nobody is thinking rationally about how a spiritual man can say this.”

Baba RamdevThe allegations are wild, but Mehta’s larger question—just who is Ramdev?—is a valid one. Right now, as he looms in the political arena, and threatens to find for himself a larger role, the vocabulary about him is purely political. By dint of simply existing in the middle of a large and important current event, discussions about him have been reduced to the now, and the tomorrow. But what he has done and said before matters, and might be the most important thing of all: Ramdev, with his extreme views and silly recommendations, is a fascinating character on television, but off it, in real life, he’s a frightening one. – The Caravan, 1 September 2012

» Rahul Bhatia is a staff writer at The Caravan. He previously worked for Open magazine, Mint and Cricinfo, among other places, and his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal. He tweets at https://twitter.com/rahulabhatia.

16 Responses

  1. Your Baba or his representative is free to comment here.

    The article was published because it confirmed much that was already learned informally from the sadhus of Kankhal.


  2. The opinion or feedback of 1 person is the basis of this article; is this good enough for the editor? Why not contact Baba directly for his response? That is, if ur a portal of any standing.


  3. Interesting finding this here in this forum


  4. @rp sharma

    I agree. I first heard about Baba Ramdev when he undertook a padayatra through villages and teaching the villagers elements of ayurveda and yoga and I seem to recall even organic farming. As a result some self sufficient villages began to sprout.

    These projects may still be on.


  5. I whole-heartedly agree.


  6. Nobody else has done in modern times what Baba Ramdev has done to improve the health of Indian masses.Yoga is popular and known and practiced on massive scale because of him. Muktavati, an Ayurveda medicine, has helped to normalize blood pressure without any side effects. Cheap Ayurveda medicines and free consultation at Patanjali are a boon. Pranayam is taught in a simple and practical manner. Let us not destroy an institution which has revolutionized health practices in such a manner suiting to poor masses not only of India but of world.


  7. the only thing i know about our great mahants is that they love to eat and fatten themselves while millions of cows are slaughtered.

    ramadev is an islamic lover sadhu so i am no fan of him. the point is that i have not seen any great movement from sadhus in last 6-7 years and yes given their numbers, they could have done much.

    i have myself seen how sadhus in ayodhya work.

    they rise up, eat sweets, gossip and then sleep.

    harsh it may sound but is truth of most of these mathadhis.


  8. @Raj Dharm

    Yes indeed the biggest enemy now is the ticking time bomb within.
    I too do not trust Open magazine and Caravan. I may be mistaken in this but the editor of Open magazine is someone called Joseph . . . .
    The name says it all. I have been doing some research on Sashi Tharoor and have found a host of names of people he associated with at the UN with similar names(these are Keralites) no doubt placed there by Sonia. He has a hold over her because of the scam he helped to cover up over the Volker Report on the food-for-oil scam. Being parachuted into the Kerala scene was a favour returned.

    I am pretty certain that the Open magazine editor is a Keralite Christian.


  9. Ayurvedic physicians put the strangest things into their medicines believing it will help cure illness. It is another thing trying to prove the ingredients of an obscure Sanskrit recipe! Brinda Karat was on the right track when she accused him of putting human bone into his medicaments. It is not so unusual a practice among some physicians as the layman believes.

    Sadhus are moved to do all kinds of things that they believe may benefit the public. But overt politics is not one of them. I am not sure I approve of his political activity even if he a declared enemy of this viciously corrupt government. He is ill-advised and very naive. A bad combination if he wants to protect his good name.


  10. IS I agree that sadhus like everyone else should come under scrutiny. I recall reading an article in Tehelka that Ramdev’s ayurvedic medicine company was using fraudulent substances. This turned out to be a fabrication. And so on . . . .

    Likewise this bhatia and mehta seem to be dubious characters. As you correctly point out their allegations can be verified whereas those of the mahants cannot.

    I recall too that during the eviction at Ramlila Maidan (last year I believe) one of the acharyas (in the north) said : he deserved it !

    Unless proven otherwise I am inclined to go along with acceptance of him as a serious sadhu who has also entered politics.


  11. The present Govt at New Delhi is no friend of Ramdev. They have unleashed CBI on him. But it seems even the CBI has found nothing against him. A couple of years back Vrinda Karat tried to defame him but unsuccessfully. I also sometimes don’t like the language that he uses but remember he is a rustic born and brought up in a Haryana village. On the whole I’ll like to take the writings of a Caravan and Open magazine writer with a pinch of salt, knowing their biases.


  12. A few years ago I spent some months in Rishikesh and Haridwar. Ramdev was just making a big splash on TV and my own friends and acquaintances were his dedicated followers. I was interested to know more about him so began to ask around. What the sadhus had to say had nothing to do with politics. Their allegations and observations were quite specific. I do not want to repeat them here as they are not proved. Mehta’s charges are different. He founded a TV channel that became very successful and after inviting Ramdev in, lost it to Ramdev’s machinations he claims. This charge can be verified or not by somebody in the business world who knows how to do these things.

    A sadhu who enters business and politics is as much the legitimate object of critical scrutiny as any other businessman or politician. Just because he wears gerua cloth and is called a baba, with lakhs of devotees, doesn’t mean he is above public review. Our upanishads and puranas repeatedly exhort seekers and devotees to investigate and closely observe the gurus and sadhus they want to spent time with. Baba Ramdev is not exempt. If he and his devotees don’t want such scrutiny, they should retire to their Kankhal ashram and stay out of politics and the public eye.


  13. No body is perfect. We have much bigger task of bringing all Hindus together. Mehta seems to be disgrunted. The biggest enemy of India, after about a thousand years of occupation, is this ticking bomb from within of sixty years which is equal to 1000 years of foreign rule in evility. At this critical juncture, global Hindus are solace to the disarayed Hindus. They are fresh, energetic and true brothers. Let us all come together and provide the world higher civilzation development where there is less greed, less injustices, less violence and no poverty, development of true science and culture, true sprituality and true shakti, true Saraswati and true Lakshmi.


  14. This rascal Rahul Bhatia has nothing but Bullshit to dish out. One disgruntled ex-partner of a channel has come up with allegation…..after so many years and nothing much to speak except what Congress influenced statement speaks out …shame on this Rascal. No one believes in this allegation for this has been making rounds of internet since last few years!!!


  15. @IS

    I don’t know much about Baba Ramdev, but is it possible that the mahants and mandaleshwars don’t like a politically active sannyasin?

    As for the article itself, the question is: who is rahul bhatia? And people like Mehta seem to be dubious characters also.


  16. Baba Ramdev is very much an enigma.

    He is a good hatha yogi and very successful businessman. He is also something of a country bumpkin and bully.

    The sannyasis of Kankhal at Haridwar, where all the mahants and mandaleshwars have headquarters and ashrams, have nothing good to say about him. They know of his purvashrama activities as well as those of the ayurvedic medicine man and TV yogi, and allege he is associated with crimes far more serious than the cheating suggested here.


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