Yoga guru Baba Ramdev. His latest product, a messaging app, has turned out to be a security nightmare for users. Photo: Hindustan Times

I stopped watching Aastha and Sanskar, the Indian TV channels that had been broadcasting the live teaching of Pranayam Yoga (Yoga of Respiration) by Ramdev, a multibillionaire corporate swami and mentor of Pranayam Yoga, in November 2013. Ramdev and the Nepalese-origin co-founder of his corporate empire, Acharya Balkrishna, own India’s fastest-growing fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, Patanjali, and its many subsidiary companies that produce Ayurvedic medicines, cosmetics, toothpaste, detergents, soaps, footwear, fashion products, and media outlets.

Every morning since 2007, I used to sit in front of my television  to practice his yoga. Ramdev repeatedly claimed that every day more than 500 million yoga enthusiasts watched and followed him around the world. And I was one of these people who had benefited from his improvised Pranayam Yoga. His yoga had helped me tremendously in overcoming several health problems. After the apparent positive benefits his yoga techniques provided to my well-being, despite being an atheist and believer in secularism, putting his Saffronizing Hindu religious orientation aside, I had been an ardent follower of Ramdev up to the end of 2013.

However, I stopped following Ramdev because as I watched him more on the TV and paid reverence to his preaching and yoga practice, my views on him as a yoga mentor dramatically changed. Seeing his TV yoga session right before the Indian general election of 2014, Ramdev appeared less as a yoga mentor and more as a preacher of Saffronization and a political leader of the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He was actively involved as a critical campaigner for the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) election. Ramdev is the man behind Narendra Modi’s rise.

I still remember every episode of his yoga teaching a year before of the 2014 election. He had started the Bharat Swabhiman (Dignified India) campaign, through which he wanted to make an “ideal” India based on a perverted Hindu philosophy. In his typical India, he suggested that there would be no cow slaughter, no poultry consumption, no alcohol, and no tobacco. Similarly, in his ideal India, there would be no multinational companies.

Next, he also campaigned for a corruption-free ideal India. In this perfect India, corrupt people would be executed. Ramdev had campaigned to protest against corrupt aftermaths of the 2G spectrum scandal, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the coal scams, and the black money stashed in foreign banks. He also vigorously campaigned for the Saffronization of the Indian economy, politics, and society through a Hindu-based education system, in which he would be more actively involved.

Ramdev aggressively attacked not only the secular and pluralistic Indian political parties that were firm believers in civil liberty, freedom, minority rights and social justice, such as the Indian National Congress and socialist and leftist parties.

Such moves raised concerns among liberal and progressive people regarding his intentions. Time and again, his activities and opinions made it evident that his single mission was to establish a Hindu fundamentalist political ideology, as the BJP upholds. In regards to such a purpose, he deliberately targeted the fundamental principles of pluralism, secularism, social justice and liberal values in India with a hope of weaken the secular forces.

Ramdev had previously declared that his campaign would be converted into a political party with a Hindu fundamentalist political ideology, which would run for the 2014 parliamentary election. However, later he abandoned that idea because his and the BJP’s political doctrines harmonized, and he endorsed the BJP . He provided nationally live-televised yoga sessions to the party’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, and Arun Jaitley, opposition leader in the upper house of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, in 2014.

This is why I not only abandoned following his yoga sessions on TV but also gave up practicing Pranayam.

Almost five years later, I again began watching his yoga sessions, not to follow his teaching but to take account of whether he was backing Narendra Modi and his BJP or not. I found that he has not been supporting the BJP in its 2019 election campaign. An aide of Acharya Balkrishna told me interesting facts about why this is.

There are many reasons. First is the political grounds. After the BJP lost state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Ramdev surmised that the BJP would not win this year’s Lok Sabha election. Therefore, he wants to maintain equidistance among all political parties to avoid possible trouble coming his way if a Congress-led government is formed in May.

Second, Modi failed to translate his political promises into action. For example, Modi promised to bring back the black money kept in offshore tax havens. However, not only was he unable to bring back a single penny, the amount of black money sent to the tax havens actually increased by 16% from 2014 to 2018. Modi also could not control corruption; on the contrary, much bigger scams such as bank frauds by Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi happened during his tenure. Similarly, Modi failed to clean up the River Ganges (Ganga) or construct the temple of Ram in Ayodhya as he promised before the 2014 election.

Another political reason Ramdev doesn’t trust Modi is his inability to stop the slaughter of cows all over India. Modi had assured Ramdev in 2014 that if he got elected as prime minister, he could ban beef nationwide. Initially, Modi remained silent on mob lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in the name of saving cows as designated by Ramdev. However, Modi was excoriated all over the world for promoting religious “intolerance” and for his failure to control mob lynchings.

The constitution ensures that India is a secular country, and nearly 21% of its population is non-Hindu, consisting of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and others. In a secular state, people can consume any meat they want. Therefore, Modi could not ban beef completely all over India. Besides, Modi often had to face very awkward situations on his foreign trips when journalists asked questions related to banning beef and squeezing the pluralist-secular characteristic of the Indian state and society.

Last, Ramdev does not back Modi and the BJP on personal grounds. The Modi government’s demonetization scheme in 2016 badly hurt Ramdev’s business. Besides that, Modi’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, didn’t fulfill promises made to Ramdev before the election in 2014. Jaitley had vowed to enable the expansion of Ramdev’s companies by creating hurdles to other foreign FMCG conglomerates.

Therefore, all in all, Ramdev has no grounds to ask his followers to vote for Modi’s BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Modi’s inability to win the trust and secure backing of Ramdev matters hugely for the BJP’s election chances. If Modi loses the Lok Sabha election, one of the reasons will be his failure to retain Ramdev’s support.

Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel is visiting faculty for a master's in international relations and diplomacy, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, and faculty for a master's program of Development Economics, Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at bhim.bhurtel@gmail.com.

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