Excerpts: From Unsolved Deaths to Yoga Highs, Ramdev Book Arrests
Journalist-turned-author Priyanka Pathak Narain lays bare the life of Baba Ramdev in new biography on the godman
Baba Ramdev has been doing it for years. Squiggling and rippling his stomach to the raucous applause of many thousands of delighted admirers. Captivating (and managing to keep captive) a nation that wakes up to the televised display of his yogic contortions and exhortations of good health. Good health that can, often, “cure cancer, HIV and homosexuality”. Western values need to be discarded in favour of ones nearer home, he almost screams, as he takes the stage – on multiple occasions, sharing it with a bevy of political and Bollywood stars.
But where did the story begin? How far back can the journey of the godman-turned tycoon (Ramdev is the founder of the burgeoning Patanjali Group of Institutions) be traced? What are the darker phases of his life, often eclipsed by his dazzling oratory and swift media skills?
Journalist-turned author Priyanka Pathak Narain lays bare the life of Baba Ramdev with finesse in her new biography Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev.
Narain, who has been a journalist with Mint for several years, pens a compelling narrative of the man at different points in his life – from farm boy to aspiring sadhu to yoga enthusiast to political aspirant to business mogul. Here is an excerpt:
When Ramdev’s Guru Mysteriously Disappeared...
A year after Ramdev had a successful run in the United Kingdom and delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York came plans for a yoga tour of the United States. But Ramdev himself missed something brewing in his own backyard. Amid his heady successes, and hectic travel, he failed to see that his guru Shankar Dev was ailing, increasingly unhappy and isolated in his own home, KripaluBagh Ashram. For instance, Shankar Dev, who was the convener of the DivyaYogMandir Trust, was not on the boards of any of the new companies that were set up by Ramdev. But what Ramdev could not see, though it was in plain sight, many in Haridwar saw. Several remember the swiftly ageing Shankar Dev, ravaged by spinal tuberculosis, becoming increasingly frail and forlorn. It was when Ramdev was in Chicago that news came from Kankhal. On 14 July 2007, Shankar Dev disappeared. Vanished without a trace. He left that morning for his usual walk and simply did not return. It may have been devastating news for Ramdev. Or maybe it was just inconvenient timing. With the Chicago schedule drawing to a close, Ramdev had to choose: Should he go on to London, where the House of Commons planned to receive and honour him, or should he send his regrets and rush back to Kankhal to lead the search for his missing guru? Usually once a disciple takes deeksha, or initiation into the sacred, from his guru, he establishes a bond with him. Ramdev had not just taken deeksha from Shankar Dev but also accepted saffron robes from him – that is, he renounced the world. From the moment he took the saffron robes from Shankar Dev, that guru– shishya relationship was meant to become the central fulcrum of his life. From that moment onward, Ramdev was supposed to consider his guru as his spiritual and temporal father and mother.
The ‘Cryptic Note’ Left Behind in Shankar Dev’s Room...
There is no way of knowing what Ramdev truly felt when he heard of the disappearance or if he struggled with the decision or for how long, but in the end he decided to carry on with his tour. The day after his aides filed a missing person’s report at Kankhal police station, on 18 July 2007, Ramdev attended a ceremony at the British House of Commons in his honour. An investigation began in India, but clues were scarce. A cryptic note was found in Shankar Dev’s room: ‘I have taken some loan from you for this trust but I cannot repay it. Please forgive me. I am leaving.’ He was seventy-seven years old. The note raised more questions than it answered: Exactly how much did this old man who continued to live as simply as before Ramdev’s meteoric rise borrow that he could not repay the sum? Why did he borrow it? When had he taken the loan? And from whom? More importantly – why did Ramdev, sitting atop an empire worth at least Rs 100 crore, not repay the loan Why did Shankar Dev not ask him for help? Or had he? ...When Ramdev returned to India, more than three weeks had passed since Shankar Dev’s disappearance. He summoned a press conference in Haridwar, remembers the Jansatta reporter and Haridwar resident Sunil Pandey. ‘At the press conference he was saying how Shankar Dev was like a father to him and how sad it was . . . I asked him that if he really was like a father to him, why didn’t he come back?’ ‘I was in the US, conducting camps,’ answered Ramdev. ‘Well, if a family member disappeared, one would come back, isn’t it?’ Pandey pressed Ramdev. ‘If I knew he was alive, I would have,’ replied Ramdev. ‘So you are admitting that you know that he is dead?’ demanded Pandey. That was the suspicion in everyone’s minds. Stunned, realizing he had misspoken, Ramdev fell silent.
A Case Still Open...
…Across the country, Ramdev’s star was ascendant. It was only in October 2012, five years after Shankar Dev’s disappearance, that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s apex investigative agency, initiated a probe to find him. In his inimitable style, Ramdev welcomed the investigation on the one hand, but also attacked the CBI and the government, accusing them of a politically motivated conspiracy to frame him in the case. Given the sour relationship between Ramdev and the Union government at that time, his allegation did have some credence. Whatever the CBI’s initial motivations, it was widely reported that it initiated a move to close the case in December 2014 – by this time the NarendraModi–led government had taken charge at the Centre – because the agency had failed to make any headway. The special CBI magistrate in Dehradun set the date for the next hearing as 12 January 2015 but this is where the public case file goes cold. It’s hard to ascertain what happened thereafter.
While a right to information (RTI) request I filed with the CBI in Delhi met with the response that the CBI was not covered by the RTI, another filed in Dehradun met with the response that the CBI does not answer questions on open cases. Ergo, the case is still open.
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