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Indian doctors protest against guru who claims yoga can defeat Covid

Thousands of Indian doctors are expected to wear black armbands on Tuesday to protest against a guru and ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who claims that yoga and traditional medicine offer stronger protection against Covid-19 than vaccines.

Doctors accuse Baba Ramdev, a powerful yoga televangelist with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, of deliberately stoking vaccine hesitancy and a suspicion of modern medicine to promote his own ayurvedic medicine company, Patanjali Ayurved.

“Baba Ramdev is saying ‘don’t take the vaccine. Allopathy is stupid and medicines are killing more people,’” said Dr John Austin Jayalal, president of the Indian Medical Association. “His statements are definitely causing confusion. The central government should put a stop to it.”

The Federation of Resident Doctors Associations, whose members are on the front lines of treating critically ill Covid patients, has called for Ramdev to be prosecuted under the Epidemic Diseases Act for “illogical, unscientific, demeaning and derogatory statements”.

Baba Ramdev launched Coronil in February to fight Covid © Stephanie Findlay/FT

Tensions between Ramdev and medical professionals have simmered since February, when the guru launched Coronil, an ayurvedic Covid concoction, at a high-profile event where Harsh Vardhan, the health minister, spoke on a panel praising Patanjali.

The IMA criticised the health minister for lending his credibility to “a falsely fabricated unscientific product”, prompting a Patanjali spokesperson to retort that doctors had “problems accepting the truth”.

Hostilities have escalated sharply during the second Covid surge when hospitals were overwhelmed with critically ill patients and had to contend with shortages of beds, oxygen, drugs and personnel. More than 170,000 Indians have died from Covid over the past two months.

Ramdev, whose yoga channel is watched by millions, mocked modern medicine as “a stupid bankrupt science” and told his followers in a viral social media video that many Indian doctors succumbed to Covid despite being vaccinated.

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“What kind of doctors are they if they could not even save themselves?” he said.

Dr Manish, the president of FORDA who uses only one name, said that Tuesday’s action was a “black day of protest” but insisted it would not compromise patient care.

“Ramdev has made fun of the medical fraternity at a time when . . . doctors are treating patients without caring for their own lives,” he added.

The IMA, whose own past president died of Covid, has accused Ramdev of “trying to create a false sense of fear and frustration in the public at large” to encourage them to buy his formulas.

Despite the criticism, Ramdev continues to downplay the effectiveness of vaccination while touting his own remedies. “Ramdev is trying to capture areas with uneducated people, telling them this is a cheap medicine,” said Dr Jayesh Lele, the IMA’s general secretary.

Ramdev did not respond to a request for comment.

Indian doctors have had fraught relations with Modi’s government. The IMA opposed New Delhi’s decision to permit alternative medicine practitioners to perform 58 types of surgeries as well as attempts to integrate traditional Indian medicine into modern medical schools’ curriculums.

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