High cost: health minister shares Ramdev's 'dream'
New India is setting novel standards for the values of governance. The Union health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said he was “pleased” to have been present at the release of a “scientific research paper” which claimed that Patanjali, a commercial organization for which the yoga preacher, Mr Ramdev, provides the ‘face’, had produced “the first evidence-based medicine for Covid-19”. In the first place, why was the minister present at the advertising gig of a company? Mr Vardhan’s frankness was disarming: the years-long closeness of the Narendra Modi-led government with Mr Ramdev was flaunted in the face of citizens by the health minister’s declaration that the government shared Mr Ramdev’s dreams for ayurveda. The Indian Medical Association has pointed out that with Mr Vardhan being a doctor himself, the violation of ethics was professional too, not just related to governance. No doctor is supposed to endorse a drug or medicine in any form or manner of advertising.
The presence of the health minister — with the Union minister for road transport and highways — next to Mr Ramdev at the event was nothing short of an endorsement. Its ramifications are dangerous. Scientists and doctors have variously shown up the flaws in the research process published as ‘evidence’ in the paper. In effect, it is an example of pseudo-science that not only has the approval of the government but also poses a serious danger to the people who trust their ministers. Fierce criticism has forced a statement from the company that the World Health Organization had not approved the product, although the banner behind the dais was cunningly designed to give that impression. The IMA has called the health minister’s “false and fabricated projection” of an “unscientific” medicine and the WHO’s subsequent denial of its certification a “slap and insult” to the people of India. But most people watching the event would be unlikely to know about the WHO’s denial. It is one thing to claim scientific glories for ancient India — from plastic surgery for Ganesha’s head to interplanetary travel — and quite another to promote commercial products without the required scientific processes in the name of ayurveda. Far from respecting a traditional system of healing based on years of study and experimentation, this is just exploiting people’s trust. At the cost of their health and pockets.