At around 6 a.m, Hardwar time, the three backup singers sharing the stage with Baba Ram-dev in his ashram fell silent. It was a live telecast and he was about to drop the day’s medical bomb. The day earlier, he had offered to cure homosexuality. And today —infertility. “
Kapal bharati se santanhinta thik hota hain
(With a breathing exercise, you can cure infertility).” No one in the audience said a word about gender insensitivity. They were ready to jerk their stomach to the words of Ramkrishna Yadav, born to a farmer family of village Saidalipur, Haryana.
In 2004, Ramkrishna Yadav died and Baba Ramdev was reborn on Aastha channel. Now, everyone wants a piece of him. You can get it too. On Google, TV, the Internet and at his ashram. “Within 5 years every Indian will be doing yoga.” This was Ramdev, the rustic and charming Indian Idol (“I practise what I preach, unlike film heroes who are not anybody’s brother or husband.”) and Ramdev the Friend: “Tere ko ek din mein patla banaonga (I’ll make you thin in a day).”
<b1>The setting — a drawing room with tartaned sofas and a throne-chair — was unlike a cave. The photo-ops in his air-conditioned bedroom — a bed strewn with papers, a wooden table filled with herbal products from his ayurvedic factory — followed soon after. He spoke about his pot-bellied childhood, representing his school in kho-kho, his initial camera-shyness, the new Aastha Bhajan channel. And homosexuality. “Just because there are such figures in Khajuraho doesn’t make it correct,” he said. “It can be cured.”
Weight loss, spiritual rejuvenation, yoga to beat recession blues — the Indian middle class loves it. But with the anti-gay plea in the Supreme Court, has Baba Ramdev peeved his spiritual constituency? Sanal Edama-ruku of the Indian Rationalist Associ-ation says, “his public announcements of curing homosexuality spreads the idea of it being an ailment”. Author of The Myth of the Holy Cow, Dr D.N. Jha, says Ramdev’s stand actually is about increasing his mass base.
“He wants to win over people who may not be communal or obscurantist but whose traditional sentiments are rattled by the pro-homosexuality ruling.”
The success of Baba Ramdev is the success of public relations, say religion watchers. “Ramdev is the brand. The brand is promoted through TV time,” adds Jha. “Promoting him sells his toothpaste.” He seems to be doing a great job as marketing manager.