Here’s Why Ramdev Doesn’t Want You to Read the Book About His Life
“Has he cured anyone of homosexuality through his means? Not as far as I know.” Priyanka Pathak Narain to The Quint.
“I’d be naive if I weren’t worried about it,” Priyanka Pathak Narain hesitates and hedges before taking a stab at the question I ask her – is she worried about a possible fallout of the potentially explosive book she has authored?
Narain has recently penned a biography on the self-styled godman and now business tycoon Baba Ramdev – beloved of innumerable Indians across the world. Her book Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev has already created a buzz on social media – and it isn’t hard to fathom why. Narain’s book traces the entire orbit of Ramdev’s life – from farm boy to yoga aspirant to television enthusiast to business mogul – something that hasn’t been too difficult for Narain, considering she was a religion reporter for several years.
I always enjoyed the religion beat at Mint – it used to fascinate me how spirituality intersected so easily with daily life in India. I wanted to examine how God plays out in our lives, and in the process, I interviewed (and reported on) Ramdev several times during my career.
A Mysterious Death, a Sudden Disappearance – and Ramdev’s Reaction
The book emerged quite organically, therefore.
My initial idea was to produce a compilation of about five or six yogis or gurus – but my publishers were fascinated with Baba Ramdev. They figured I should cull out an entire book revolving just around him.
It couldn’t have been easy, surely? Particularly since the story delves into certain dark realms – such as the mysterious disappearance of his guru Shankar Dev (and Ramdev’s strange press conference, after), a couple of murky, unsolved deaths of people connected closely with his ashram, a purported bullying of the previous chairman of Aastha India (which Ramdev eventually took over), et al. Narain is pragmatic as she tells me about simply having “wanted to report it all”.
I did not want to hold back on either the positives or the negatives. Every success story is bound to have its dark moments. I wanted to convey the complexity of his character.
She is quick to add, however, that it was “never her intention to judge”. “What did you think when you read it?” she asks me with urgency.
Did you think I was balanced throughout? Because that’s what I wanted to portray. As a reporter, I didn’t think it would be right to cast any aspersions, but I wanted to tell all of it – not whitewash the dark moments OR downplay the achievements.
But does she think he ‘got away’ with a lot over the years? – I persist in asking. Much of Narain’s text, as I read it, strike me as a series of relationships and alliances that Baba Ramdev built upon for his immediate needs – before discarding them by the wayside. In Narain’s own words, at the end of chapter 22 – “…Ramdev is happy to take other people’s help – but only on his own terms”.
Chilling sentences end each of the chapters that deal with a death. For instance, when Narain talks about Ramdev’s first ally Swami Yogananda’s death, she un-surreptitiously mentions: “Yogananda is said to have had a falling out with Ramdev’s increasingly powerful enterprise but the reasons for this are still unknown… The murder remains unsolved till date….”
Where Narain talks about the sudden disappearance of Ramdev’s ailing guru Shankar Dev, she brings in the detail of how Ramdev – faced with the choice of continuing on his US tour and coming back to look for his guru – chose the former. When he was asked about this decision in a press conference, Ramdev inadvertently blurted out: “If I knew he was alive, I would have (come back)”. The reporter, named Pandey, pressed him – “So you’re admitting that you know that he is dead?” ‘That was the suspicion in everyone’s minds. Stunned, realizing he had misspoken, Ramdev fell silent.’
“I don’t know about getting away, but he certainly wears an armour.” Narain answers me, qualifying the statement by reminding me that the godman “has been through a wringer – one calamity after another since his childhood”. She has obviously spent enough time with him to get a read on him, but Narain refutes that with a thoughtful pause.
You know, when you spend time with him, he’s extremely difficult to read. You always feel like you’re witnessing a performance. I never felt like I knew what he was thinking.
Ramdev’s Embarrassment at Ramlila
The only time Ramdev let his guard down – according to the journalist-turned-author? “After the Ramlila fiasco,” she tells me confidently.
It is an incident that she covers thoroughly in the book where – following a police charge – Ramdev “…leapt off the stage… Borrowing the clothes of a close female aide,… hurriedly disguised himself as a woman – bushy beard notwithstanding ….He tried to escape from the protest venue. Unsuccessfully.”
Narain details how, post the disguise debacle, Ramdev “had instantly gone from national anti-corruption warrior to laughing stock”.
She tells me how, in the few days that followed, “he was truly vulnerable. You could understand what he was going through.”
Narain does talk about how it wasn’t hard to get anyone talking about Ramdev really – particularly the people she mentions as having had some sort of a fallout with him.
People like Karamveer (once Ramdev’s yoga guru) and the Mehtas (from whom Ramdev took over Aastha) were hard to track down, but not difficult to talk to. It was like, they were waiting for someone to turn up at their door and ask them these questions. I would contact them and after they’d first established who I was, their second question would be – ‘when can we meet?’ I didn’t have to wheedle or coax them.
Kirit Mehta, for instance, talks about the time Ramdev sought to meet with him in 2009. It was the meeting, according to Mehta, where Ramdev and his allies, urged him to resign from his post as Chairman and MD of Aastha India. According to Mehta:
Ramdev, paranoid about secret recordings, asked to see his pen to check if it had a hidden camera. Then ‘Ramdev was in full rudra swaroop... furious, livid at me. He was screaming... shouting... besides himself with rage that I could even think of selling the international rights of Aastha....
The Adulation, Despite the Tall Claims and Controversies
Why, in spite of (and perhaps because of) the controversies, does she believe people adore him to such lengths?
It’s hard not to! He seems to understand how touch the lives of hundreds of his countryfolk are – because he has lived that life. He has seen a certain sense of despair. He keeps telling people – ‘it’s not difficult to be healthy!’ – and has earned a place in their hearts that’s going to be hard to take away. There’s also his personality – he is so self-deprecating – perhaps you could call it his charisma? It makes people like him – and therefore, believe whatever he tells them.
But then, what happens when he makes outrageous claims such as his yogic means and medicines managing to “cure HIV and homosexuality”? “It’s a mystifying question (why so many believe it),” Narain admits. “Has he ‘cured’ anyone of homosexuality through his means? Not as far as I know.”
Narain is almost anxious on the score that people see the book for what she meant it to be – an objective relaying of his life. “I do hope the people reading it can see that I’ve kept it balanced, that I’ve simply examined his life without passing judgement. There is no personal agenda.”
(The article is being republished from The Quint’s archives in view of the restraint order on the publication of a book on Baba Ramdev’s life. It was first published on 31 July 2017.)
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