A deep dive into the Swami Ramdev vs IMA controversy
In 1999, Swami Ramdev began teaching westernized Indian people yoga. Within three years, large stadiums in north India filled with Indians eager to learn pranayam, basic asanas, and how to use local spices and herbs to better their health. The yoga camps spread through India, then around the world. Within a few more years, his popularity spread to television. People continued to listen to him, not because he donned his hairy chest to the world while demonstrating complicated poses of yoga, but because what he recommended was tried by millions of people, many of whom saw benefits that mainstream medicine could not give them. People sat down at scheduled times around the planet to “do Baba Ramdev,” and partake in yoga and breathwork. Pranayam re-entered Indians’ vocabulary. Sales of remedies he recommended soared within hours of the telecast.
From a jungle location in 1999, he and his team of 5 began to build a factory, a school, a medical college, a research facility, and after they had surpassed the Rs 12,000 crore annual revenue mark (about $1.7 million) in 2015, he began to influence political decisions made by lawmakers. They liked his money, his command over people, his charisma, essentially what every politician needs. Patanjali has now crossed $1.6 billion and rivals Big Pharma players. This is where the problem starts, as he has money but also the support of the People of the second largest nation on the planet.
Fast forward to 2021, Ramdev was sitting in a private company meeting, not a public press conference, during which he read a message on his phone, in which he voices the words “…allopathy is such a stupid and diwalia (bankrupt) science …” It was captured on a video, clipped and went viral. This event has enraged both allopaths and ayurvedic physicians who stand on different sides of the debate, fanned by the media and various stakeholders who love to watch wrestling matches.
The attack started with an NGO started by Christian missionaries of British India, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), sending an open letter of 22 May 2021, challenging the Indian government to discipline Ramdev for his derogatory statement in this time of the pandemic, where the Epidemic Act requires all citizens to obey laws complying with medical directives.
The next day officials wrote a reprimanding letter to Ramdev. On 24 May he withdrew any statement that people might find offensive. Later that day Ramdev and Patanjali Yogpeeth (Trust) wrote a letter to the IMA and pharmaceutical companies (ref. B.S.T./H.O./2021/172), with 25 rhetorical questions posited to the supporters and flag bearers of mainstream science and medicine.
The questions in his open letter invite commentary by articulate but authentic experts of the sciences who also practice medicine, but the IMA has not provided answers, primarily because they cannot. IMA represents only 260K of the nation’s 12 million physicians (about 2%), most of whom are more interested in suppressing non-western approaches to medicine than they are about patient-centered care. Indeed, IMA defends allopathy by attacking ayurveda.
Ramdev targeted allopathy for having few cures for the chronic diseases – which comprise most of today’s ailments. He has often mentioned that allopathy is only good for pain relief and infections, and lauds allopathy for surgeries and emergency care as its greatest contributions to the previous practices of medicine worldwide. This is what common people also understand. Suppression of the body’s symptoms is the usual tool of pharmaceuticals, and side effects and complications are sold with them and are not treated well by allopathy.
The IMA vs Ramdev controversy is flaring due to the raging backdrop of a pandemic, which the Indian government is diligently trying to control. Rather than focus on the urgency of solutions for the pandemic, Ramdev’s rhetorical questions about allopathy not having answers for chronic diseases has hit a sore spot, as it is a non-urgent debate for another time. Other governments on the globe are emphasizing the approaches and tools of the medical establishment and pharma, the tests, vaccines, drugs. After many failures and no evidence-based approaches, the nations are gradually moving forward.
Ramdev points out that no other system appears to have remedies or useful procedures, mostly because minority medical systems are suppressed. Many nations in Africa and southeast Asia, as well as India, have traditional medical systems and local remedies, which receive no attention or exploration because they cannot compete with the hegemony of laws that suppress them. Rigid rules for providing evidence apply to the traditional systems but not to allopathic drugs. The media does not emphasize these remedies, and common people are led to believe that no other remedies or protocols exist. Vaccines for Covid have become the predominant strategy and are publicized. If traditional medicines were given and showed the same side effects as the vaccines, they would be taken off the market. The question also remains on why the pharmaceutical companies are not demanded to provide the vaccines at cost, and to make zero net profits.
However, Ramdev and his team of 500 scientists are smarter than they appear. Patanjali has already profited greatly from the pandemic in several ways: by donating in humanitarian gestures, by producing and publishing a clinical study of ayurvedic medicine for Covid, and monetarily by introducing Coronil, which has sold over 20 million units, use their best publicity and soft power of India – the word-of-mouth.
But Ramdev’s war is not against the IMA. It is against the legions of pharmaceutical producers and their puppets, poor-quality, yet qualified and licensed doctors who prescribe those pharmaceuticals. Most drugs have limited or low efficacy but are protected by the legal structures that set up regulations to protect Big Pharma at the expense of the People. Evidence that shows they do not work on large parts of the population are suppressed. Everyone in the chain of selling pharmaceuticals lives on money made by propagating the industry, without any guilt of personally harming anyone. Clever marketing convinces them they are part of a worthy cause. Ostensibly, the physician prescribed a needed medicine to a patient. Under the surface there is indeed a mafia.
The ancient texts of Ayurveda warn again and again that physicians must make the medicines that go into patients’ hands and bodies. The ethics of handing a medicine to someone that does not work is a check against adulteration and spurious contents. If you couldn’t hand it to your most beloved you can’t hand it to a patient, is the hope. Even today, people devoted to traditional medicines know that the medicine prepared by the physician is better than any mass-made purchase.
Ramdev is not fighting with the competent physicians who focus on patient-centered care. He is creating a groundswell to go after the pharma mafia. That is why he gets on TV and does not send one of the articulate 500 scientists that work for him. He wants to bring awareness to the People, not the technical experts. This population-driven movement transformed India from slavery 80 years ago. The millennials have never felt it, so they do not know the power of Freedom Fighters.
Fighting for Health Freedom and Truth about Pharma will transform the ability of countries to afford healthcare for their people. Reducing the power of the hegemonic pharmaceutical lobby will allow the poor to get the medicine they need, and detach the nefarious deeds that Big Pharma does with their huge profits.
As the People, our next steps should be to uncover the data behind Big Pharma’s profiteering, to translate the technical papers in the research literature to show people in common language how a drug works.
When we shout that breast cancer affects 1 in 9 women, and send donations to foundations that use pharmaceutical monies to do research on drugs, we should remember that breast cancer does NOT affect 8 in 9 women. Non-pharmaceuticals that preserve health and prevent cancers are often a better option. When the evidence shows that statins predispose patients to serious neurological disease, we must help the People understand what the mediocre doctor does not convey. When remdesivir, ivermectin, and hydroxychloroquine do not have evidence by mainstream medicine standards, why are we using them? Pharma has convinced us.
The next steps are to demand lawmakers to cap pricing of pharmaceuticals. A wholesale drug seller provided remdesivir to physicians at Rs.740 for a 100mg tablet, which was sold in hospitals in India for Rs.5000. This allowed hospitals and private physicians to support remdesivir. Once the data showed its lack of efficacy, officials were convinced to suppress the findings for as long as possible, quietly taking their own family away from the drug, but happily providing it to the affording buyer.
Governments must be pressured to disallow the monopoly that pharmaceuticals have as the predominant medical option for patients. The People must be informed about all health options and not falsely told that a drug is the only option. Lying to the People about their health must stop. States can and must take back the power of making laws against economics that hurt the people. This is what Ramdev is doing, to take back the Right to Health that ancient wisemen knew, that modern lawmakers have been too weak to assert into Law.