21st April 2017
An investigative article in SBS on Ramdev that cites me extensively. I hope it will start further investigations.
Luke Williams, a journalist, contacted me in March 2016 about Ramdev. He had located me from my blog posts on Ramdev. I sent him some links, spoke with him over phone a couple of times (once he was in Vietnam, the other time in India I think), and connected him to a couple of potential leads for further investigation.
It appears he spent considerable time trying to get an interview with Ramdev but despite being assured of the interview, failed to get it. So he has reported on the basis of whatever information he could find (including his phone calls with me).
Do read his article: India’s Great Lord … and his Great Australian Dream. [I’m keeping a text version on my server for future reference + screenshot, given URLs keep changing and disappearing all the time.]
I’ll make note of the observations that cite me and provide comment below these observations in relation to accuracy/ any other relevant fact.
OBSERVATION 1 IN THE ARTICLE
Ramdev himself was elusive, but I spoke to Sanjeev Sabhlok, a thoughtful and softly spoken postgraduate student who attempted to start his own political party in India about seven years ago. In 2010, he received a phone call from Swami Ramdev asking if he would meet him to discuss the possibility of founding a political party with an anti-corruption platform.
“I ended up staying with him for three weeks at his headquarters in a city named Haridwar,” Sabhlok told me. “Make no mistakes about it, Swami Ramdev is very, very intelligent – possibly the smartest person I have ever met.
“He speaks in a language people can relate to, he has a remarkable memory, and he recites Vedic scriptures off the top of his head. He remembers everybody’s name, he remembers little details about people he meets, he is extremely charming and very easy to like. I have to say he has a very pleasant personality – exceptionally pleasant, to be honest.”
Although I like thinking of myself as a life long student, I’m actually not formally a student, but a former Indian bureaucrat and now an economist in the Victorian government. I received TWO calls from Ramdev in late 2012, one in November (I forget the date) and one in early December. Yes, Ramdev wanted to form a new political party but my interest right from the beginning was on a party with comprehensive liberal reforms. Implausible though it seemed to me (the idea of Ramdev supporting a liberal party), I checked about him with a few people and decided to give this a go.
Yes, I stayed for three weeks in Haridwar out of around 6 weeks that I took leave from work. My speech at Patanjali here. Even when I was in Delhi during this period, I was with Ramdev at Jantar Mantar. Ramdev published 100,000 booklets emblazoned with the logo of the Freedom Team of India (here) and we agreed to work towards launching the new party in mid-2013.
My comments about Ramdev’s intelligence and personality are correctly cited from my phone conversation with Luke.
OBSERVATION 2 IN THE ARTICLE
I returned to my hotel that night, and called Sanjeev Sabhlok to ask about Ramdev’s charity claims. Sabhlok said that one of Ramdev’s trusts did offer free daily yoga classes.
He added that there is a place for homeless people to stay in an emergency. “The building is pretty ramshackle, with broken windows. I think there were some poor people living there, but if I’m not mistaken, they are expected to leave after a few days. This is not intended to be a permanent shelter for the poor”.
“There is undoubtedly some charitable work being undertaken,” Sabhlok explained. “However, there is no beeline of people coming from across the country to get these free facilities since the main business model is for-profit and/or donation based.
“I have nothing against a commercial model. The only issue would be: are any tax benefits being obtained in the name of being charitable, consistent with activities on the ground.”
This is an exact quotation from my email to Luke dated 13 March 2016.
OBSERVATION 3 IN THE ARTICLE
Sabhlok explained Ramdev was “indoctrinated by several gurus” who “taught Ramdev his particular brand of Hinduism and Indian philosophy”.
Sabhlok has spent several years looking into Ramdev’s financial affairs and background since the pair fell out five years ago when Ramdev declined to join his political movement. He said that this period helps explain Ramdev’s primacy on yoga, his opposition to homosexuality and his “clean up the Ganges” campaign.
“I am sure he was seen as being exceptionally bright and he would have been seen as someone who could really revitalise a certain style of Hindu religion and politics,” Sahdlok said.
I don’t recall saying that Ramdev was indoctrinated by several gurus, nor do I recall any discussion with Luke regarding Ramdev’s ideology. It is clear, however, that Ramdev is an Arya Samaji and that is widely known.
I do not recall discussing once Ramdev’s opposition to homosexuality. Once again, this is widely known across India.
The last para, as well, is inaccurately cited to me. These are general facts that are widely discussed/known and anyone could have told Luke such things.
OBSERVATION 4 IN THE ARTICLE
“I know a lot of the allegations made against Ramdev are possibly politically motivated, so what I have been publicly asking him for years to either release his accounts or get them independently audited so he can clear his name,” said Sahblok. “He has refused to do so. If he has nothing to hide why doesn’t he just release them?”
“I have often wondered if this isn’t just a massive scam, one big racket to fund one man’s political ambitions and make a whole lot of other people rich. I trusted him at first, but I really can’t help but think he is merely taking advantage of all the problems in India and making them worse.”
This comment is broadly correct, being Luke’s interpretation from my phone conversations.
Let me add that Ramdev does release his accounts in a most amazingly summary and essentially worthless manner. However, what I had asked him for was an independent audit. I have asked him repeatedly for such an independent audit. He not only refused, he has never responded to any such request.
And yes, his entire family (brother/brother-in-law, etc.) have become extraordinarily rich through this process. My sources tell me that their wealth is almost entirely undisclosed black money.
And yes, I agree he is taking advantage of the existing corruption in India for his PERSONAL GAIN. He is a DIRECT supporter of corruption. Of that I have no doubt.
MY GENERAL FURTHER COMMENTS ON LUKE’S ARTICLE
Ramdev does one good thing – his yoga. He is really good at that, and yoga is quite good for health (so long as your muscles are already very supple; it can’t help you AT ALL if your muscles are really tight – for that you need different treatment).
But Luke is absolutely right to point out the many rackets that Ramdev is involved in – in particular, the Ayurveda racket and fake claims he makes. Ayurveda is one of the biggest frauds in the world; entirely unproven. E.g. see my blog posts:
Finally, Ramdev’s bigotry and violence. I’ve not addressed his bigotry on this blog – but his bigotry is widely known.
His violence – it is not widely known that Ramdev exhorts people to violence QUITE FREQUENTLY.
Overall, Luke’s article is an eye-opener for many people, and it should hopefully start a series of investigations across the world into Ramdev’s affairs.