Baba Ramdev is nobody's fool, as the IMA ( Indian Medical Association ) seems to think. Anyone who started life by churning his stomach like a washing machine and ended up with a multi billion dollar empire has to be a smart cookie.

And just marvel at his latest coup: the acquisition of the Rs. 40000 crore Ruchi Soya in insolvency proceedings. The company owed Rs. 12146 crore to the banks, and the Baba took it over by paying just Rs. 4350 crore, the beauty of the "package" being that he put up only Rs. 1000 crore of his own money, the remaining Rs. 3350 crore coming as loans from the same banks who had taken a "haircut" of Rs. 8000 crore on earlier loans to the same company! Post the take- over, the company is now valued at Rs. 35360 crores. How's that on an investment of just Rs. 1000 crore ? It takes years of Kapal Bharti and Alom Vilom to rise to such strategic brilliance.

One is also bemused at the manner in which the Baba has suddenly become the mascot, champion and spokesman of Ayurveda, a traditional school of Indian medicine, courtesy the IMA's fulminations. To qualify as a doctor in this discipline one has to have passed BAMS ( Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) which Ramdev has not done. Why then is IMA engaging with him so seriously?

Which is why I find his ongoing spat with the IMA so amusing, like a Spy vs Spy episode in those comics we read as kids. Ok, let us admit upfront that the Baba's comments about doctors- that, since they could not even save themselves from Corona, how would they save others, that they are responsible for thousands of deaths - were not only distasteful but also showed no respect or gratitude for the hundreds of doctors who had died in the line of duty over the past fifteen months.

But to demand that he be arrested for sedition or to escalate it into an Ayurveda vs Allopathy battle does no credit to either Patanjali or the IMA. In fact, the escalation has reached ridiculous levels- according to a complaint in a Delhi court the IMA President, by advocating Allopathy, is trying to convert Hindus into the Christian faith ! And in a tit-for-tat an FIR has just been filed against the Baba in Chattisgarh by the local chapter of the IMA !

Because the simple fact is that neither has emerged from the pandemic smelling of roses. Both these hoary disciplines- Ayurveda and Allopathy- have created confusion, doubts and misgivings in the public mind and have sought to monetize the crisis for their own respective benefit. In the process the casualty has been the scientific temper, the faith of the people in medicine- and perhaps many lives.

Ramdev's version of Ayurveda as an antidote to Covid has no basis in science. He began by extolling the virtues of cow dung and urine; he then claimed that Pranayam exercises would counter respiratory failures and replace ventilators. He finally produced his magnum opus- Coronil- obtaining for it an ill-advised endorsement from the Union Health Minister; his attempt to claim approval from WHO was promptly shot down by that organisation itself. But not before the placebo had garnered hundreds of crores in revenue from gullible and desperate buyers.

Till date there is not a shred of evidence to indicate that Coronil was subjected to any trials or that any of its claims have been scientifically verified. By conflating Yoga with Ayurveda and Ayurveda with crass commercialism, the Baba has brought this established school into disrepute and created huge confusion in the minds of millions of people.

But here's my point- Allopathy has not done much better either. Led by the WHO, Dr. Fauci, the US CDC and our own ICMR, its constantly changing stand on crucial issues, unrepentant volte faces on advisories, and bickering among themselves, have done a lot to promote vaccine hesitancy and scepticism. And, like the Baba, earned untold billions for pharma companies, hospitals and vaccine makers.

Pfizer will reportedly make a record profit of US$ 29 billion in 2020 ! Here is an illustrative list of points on which "modern medicine"( as opposed to "traditional" Ayurveda ) has failed to provide a consistent or definitive answer:

* It was initially said that the virus is spread by heavy droplets, but later some doctors claimed it was spread by lighter aerosols, increasing the distance it could travel and infect.

* So now no one knows whether the "safe" distance is six feet or six meters.

* Fauci earlier advised that wearing masks is not required, but now insists on it.

* Just last year drugs like Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir were being touted as miracle cures but now they have been struck off the list by WHO as being of no use. In India, people have been paying ten to twenty times the actual price for the drugs in the black market.

* No two doctors can agree on the use of steroids in severe cases. Some say it's a life saver, others are of the view that it leads to cardiac failures and cytokine storms.

* There is still no clarity on the ideal gap between two doses of the vaccine ; recommendations extend from four weeks to twelve weeks, depending on whether you are Boris Johnson or Narendra Modi.

* No medical authority or regulator has satisfactorily explained as yet why persons who have received both doses of the vaccine still get infected, and some of them die. Of what use is a 95% or 97% efficacy rate in such cases?

* Similarly, the gods of Allopathy have been just as clueless about the emerging new complications- the various types of fungus, gangrene and blood clotting AFTER vaccination. How is it that the three phase trials of various vaccines failed to alert the manufactures and regulators to this likely effect of vaccines?

* Everybody ( experts as well as governments) are now hiding behind the broad spectrum excuse of "variants" and "mutants", and busy finding names for them.

* Nobody knows by when this virus will be defeated, if ever. There is already talk of possible annual booster doses.

* The latest debate , equally confusing as the others, is whether the Third Wave will be specially lethal for children below the age of twelve. There are as many authoritative views on this as there are doctors.

What the illustrative list above indicates is that there is as much confusion in the Allopathic camp about Covid as there is in the Ayurveda camp. Which perhaps is not unexpected since this is a novel virus and research takes time to deliver results.

Medicine is not an exact science and not all answers are instantly available. This is especially true of zoonotic diseases, which are only now beginning to emerge as we intrude deeper into the natural environment. But then, neither of the two have the right to occupy the moral high ground and preach to the other. Or to us, who have been ripped off of thousands of crores in medical and hospital charges and usually handed back the dead bodies of our loved ones in return. Enormous profits have been made by both the adversaries and they should now end their vaudeville act and get back to answering some of the issues listed above.

IMA, in particular, should stop patronising and demeaning Ayurveda and tone down its hostility to it. Ayurveda is as much of a science or non-science as Allopathy, and of far older vintage. It should not treat Baba Ramdev as a representative of Ayurveda, and should see him for what he actually is: a savvy businessman who has married medicine with FMCG with stupendous success. Ayurveda is far bigger and of greater consequence than he is.

The real proponents and practitioners of authentic Ayurveda should, on the other hand, recognise the enormous damage that the Baba is doing to their science. They should break their silence and come out openly in its defence and denounce the Baba before he hijacks their discipline and takes it to the global stage, as he has done for Yoga.

In short, if the IMA must do battle, it should do so against Ramdev and not Ayurveda. And Ramdev should stick to Pranayam, biscuits and soya and leave medicine to those who are qualified and trained for it.

But lets end this on a lighter note. A cousin of mine ( from Kanpur, naturally) has a very pertinent question for Baba Ramdev and Dr. J A Jayalal of the IMA, probably in connection with an impending marriage in the family : if a girl vaccinated with Covishield marries a boy with a Covaxin shot, will their children be immune to all variants? And my cousin, who is a bit of a persistent Kanpuria, also wants to know whether Patanjali will get to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine in India, and if so, then will it be known as Putinjali ? Valid questions for IMA and the Baba, don't you think ?

Over to you, gentlemen.

Avay Shukla is retired from the Indian Administrative Service.