Justice delayed but a ton of bricks await

From ‘SC declines Ramdev, Patanjali apology; expresses concern over FMCGs taking gullible consumers ‘up and down the garden path’’, The Hindu, April 10, 2024:

The Supreme Court has refused to accept the unconditional apology from Patanjali co-founder Baba Ramdev and managing director Acharya Balkrishna for advertising medical products in violation of giving an undertaking in the apex court in November 2023 prohibiting the self-styled yoga guru. … Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah told senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi that Mr. Ramdev has apologised only after being caught on the back foot. His violations of the undertaking to the court was deliberate and willful, they said. The SC recorded its dissatisfaction with the apology tendered by proposed contemnors Patanjali, Mr. Balkrishna and Mr. Ramdev, and posted the contempt of court case on April 16.

… The Bench also turned its ire on the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority for “twiddling their thumbs” and doing nothing to prevent the publications and advertisements. “Why should we not come down like a ton of bricks on your officers? They have been fillibustering,” Justice Kohli said. The court said the assurances of the State Licensing Authority and the apology of the proposed contemnors are not worth the paper they are written on.

A very emotionally gratifying turn of events, but perhaps not as gratifying as they might have been had they transpired at the government’s hands when Patanjali was issuing its advertisements of pseudoscience-backed COVID-19 cures during the pandemic. Or if the Supreme Court had proceeded to actually hold the men in contempt instead of making a slew of observations and setting a date for another hearing. Still, something to cheer for and occasion to reserve some hope for the April 16 session.

But in matters involving Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved, many ministers of the current government ought to be pulled up as well, including former Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, Union micro, small, and medium enterprises minister Nitin Gadkari, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s governance and policies both written and unwritten enabled Patanjali’s charlatanry while messrs Vardhan and Gadkari were present at an event in February 2021 when Patanjali launched a product it claimed could cure COVID-19, with Vardhan – who was health minister then – speaking in favour of people buying and using the unproven thing.

I think the Supreme Court’s inclination to hold Ramdev et al. in contempt should extend to Vardhan as well because his presence at the event conferred a sheen of legitimacy on the product but also because of a specific bit of theatrics he pulled in May the same year involving Ramdev and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Ramdev apologising because that’s more politically convenient rather than because he thinks he screwed up isn’t new. In that May, he’d called evidence-based medicine “stupid” and alleged such medicine had killed more people than the virus itself. After some virulent public backlash, Vardhan wrote a really polite letter to Ramdev asking him to apologise, and Ramdev obliged.

But just the previous month, in April 2021, Manmohan Singh had written a letter to Modi suggesting a few courses of action to improve India’s response to the virus’s spread. Its contents were perfectly reasonable, yet Vardhan responded to it accusing Singh of spreading “vaccine hesitancy” and alleging Congress-ruled states were responsible for fanning India’s deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections (in 2021). These were all ridiculous assertions. But equally importantly, his lashing out stood in stark contrast to his letter to Ramdev: respect for the self-styled godman and businessman whose company was attempting to corner the market for COVID-19 cures with untested, pseudo-Ayurvedic froth versus unhinged rhetoric for a well-regarded economist and statesman.

For this alone, Vardhan deserves the “ton of bricks” the Supreme Court is waiting with.