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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 24, Dated 18 June 2011
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
COVER STORY

Baba’s black sheep and the golden fleece

Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna seem to have spun an unholy empire using all kinds of means. Brijesh Pandey and Manoj Rawat reports from Haridwar

Balkrishna is supposed to be the brain behind Baba Ramdev’s numerous trusts and companies

Man Friday Balkrishna is supposed to be the brain behind Baba Ramdev’s numerous trusts and companies

Photo: Vijay Pandey

HARIDWAR, PATANJALI Yogpeeth, 6.50 pm. The air is rife with talk about the imminent arrival of Acharya Balkrishna. It has been three days since Baba Ramdev’s trusted deputy went missing in action and Ramdev’s constantly changing statements were adding to the confusion. When Ramdev was asked on 5 June about Balkrishna’s no-show, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry. He has not disappeared but is on a secret mission.”

Next morning, when Ramdev was asked the same question, he looked every inch a worried man. “I don’t know where exactly he is. I have been told that every person who has disappeared from the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi is in the custody of Delhi Police. They should tell us Acharya Balkrishna’s whereabouts.” When reminded about his ‘secret mission’ statement, Baba stuck to his Delhi Police bluster.

Related

This Baba has also amassed wealth!
The fast & the furious
Beware, this Baba is no Saint

Then on 7 June, Balkrishna appeared before the media, wearing his trademark white dress and an extremely hassled expression. The ever-smiling demeanour had given way to a weepy persecution complex. He started by criticising those who were targeting Ramdev and then narrated how the Baba’s followers were brutally beaten by Delhi Police. But when asked where he had been for the past three days, he gave no clear answer. He kept talking in circles but did not give a direct reply to whether he was tortured, detained or interrogated by the police or any intelligence agency.

A staunch follower, seeing Acharya Balkrishna in this condition, remarked, “Looks like there is an adverse planetary configuration over Baba Ramdev and his empire.” He might have an astrological explanation for Ramdev’s waning influence, but Ramdev’s growing arrogance has lost him most of the local support he had when he was just a simple yoga guru.

In fact, during the entire course of events that unfolded this week when the drama shifted from Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan to Haridwar, it was surprising to see ND Tiwari, said to be his original patron when the latter was chief minister, having to wait 90 minutes to meet Ramdev. And despite Tiwari’s age, he had to climb to the second floor to meet the Baba, who did not oblige him by descending the stairs.

Patanjali Yogpeeth is worth over Rs 1,100 crore. There are 34 firms incorporated between 2006-11, dealing in medicine, construction, real state and energy

Though Baba Ramdev has faced several controversies in his life, this confrontation with the Central government could be his litmus test. From a man of modest means to heading a conglomerate that can put the best of businessmen to shame, the rise of Ramdev’s fortune has been nothing short of spectacular. However, the rags-to-riches saga has not been without its share of controversies.

THE THREESOME of Baba Ramdev, Acharya Balkrishna and Acharya Karamveer started their journey together in 1990-91 at Tripura Yoga Ashram, Kankhal, a locality in Haridwar. There they used to assist in the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines. Later, they were introduced to Swami Shankar Dev of Kripalu Bagh Ashram, a respected saint who had a huge tract of land in that area. Along with him, they registered a trust called Divya Yog Mandir on 5 January 1995, incorporating the Swami’s property. While he was designated the chief patron, Ramdev became the president, Balkrishna general secretary and Karamveer vice-president. Jeevraj Patel was made the treasurer. The declared aim of the trust was to impart practical knowledge of yoga and pranayam, the breathing techniques which the middle class rediscovered in the past two decades.

Apart from Balkrishna, Baba Ramdev’s brother Ram Bharat manages Divya Yog Pharmacy. Baba’s brother-in-law Jasdev Shastri manages the affairs of Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. Other than this, Swami Muktanand, who is a disciple of Swami Shankar Dev, also looks after Divya Pharmacy, which is a unit of Divya Yog Mandir. These four people form the core of Baba Ramdev’s management.

A man points to the half demolished wall built to extend Yoga Gram

Land grab A man points to the half demolished wall built to extend Yoga Gram

Photos: Rajeev K

Nine months after the trust was formed, Acharya Balkrishna expelled two businessmen, charging them with indulging in undesirable activities. This was actually the first blow struck for takeover of Divya Yog. On 10 December 1997, Sadhvi Kamla was also shown the door on the same charges. Next to go was Karamveer — he was forced to resign from the post of vice-president. Then came the masterstroke: Ramdev and Balakrishna persuaded Swami Shankar Dev to write that “in case of division of the trust, the property of the trust will be transferred to a trust with similar intention”.

After this deft paperwork and ouster of the founding team, Ramdev and Balkrishna became the real owners of the trust. Baba Ramdev’s journey to the top had begun. But there is a footnote to this story. Swami Shankar Dev disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2007 and his whereabouts are not known. Swami Hath Yogi of Haridwar says that there should be a CBI inquiry and only then the truth behind his disappearance will come out. But till now nothing is known.

Today, Patanjali Yogpeeth is like a thriving MNC. There are 34 companies incorporated between 2006 and 2011, dealing in medicine, construction, real estate and energy. The 2009-10 turnover was 1,100 crore. According to sources, Income Tax authorities are trying to figure out the real worth of these companies.

Once Baba Ramdev was in the saddle, his land hunger knew no bounds. He started buying vast tracts in and around Uttarakhand with a vengeance. Large tracts were purchased for growing medicinal plants in Uttarkashi, Pauri, Rudraprayag and other hill districts. All these acquisitions were made in the name of Divya Yog Mandir trust.

The administration is no doubt paralysed by Ramdev’s high-level connections, proved by his confabulations with Sushma Swaraj and Chief Minister Nishank

While the land ceiling law is very stringent in Uttarakhand, Baba Ramdev seems an honourable exception. Two government orders in the month of July 2008 allowed the trusts and companies run by Baba Ramdev to buy 1,700 bighas (1 bigha is 800 sq m). Out of this, Baba asked the government to convert the 800 bighas in Mustafabad into industrial land. The trust has bought this land at a low price and property dealers of the area say that if the land is converted to industrial use, it will be pure gold.

AMID VARIOUS allegations suggesting landgrab and undervaluation of properties, a shocker came to Patanjali Ayurveda Limited on 2 August 2010, when the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Haridwar, found the trust guilty of evading stamp duty to the tune of several lakh rupees. The SDM found that 16 properties purchased by Patanjali Ayurveda Limited were grossly undervalued to reduce the stamp duty paid. The SDM asked Balkrishna to not only pay the balance Rs 9 lakh stamp duty but also a penalty of Rs 5 lakh. Patanjali Ayurveda had purchased these properties right next to the National Highway but then tried to undervalue it. The trust has filed a review petition before the SDM.

The opulent facade of the Patanjali Yogpeeth trust in Haridwar

Gates to Nirvana The opulent facade of the Patanjali Yogpeeth trust in Haridwar

And this is not all. Recently, at a Janata Darbar hosted by Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, a former pradhan AS Chauhan and Charan Singh complained that about 200 bighas, which belonged to the village panchayat in Aurangabad, had been illegally occupied by Ramdev, who had purchased 600 bighas from one Fareed Khan and constructed a Yoga Gram. Here, air-conditioned cottages by the name of Tapasvi and Mahirsi were built and people were charged thousands of rupees to stay there and get ‘purification’. The district administration was asked to look into it and the report of SDM Harveer Singh was a damning indictment of the way things are run in and around Haridwar.

Filed on 5 May, the report (a copy of which is with TEHELKA), says, “In the disputed area, an effort was being made to extend the area of Yoga Gram by constructing a wall in the dry riverbed. When we reached there, it was under construction and we forced them to stop. Apart from this, a path used by Aurangabad villagers to go to the jungle after crossing the river has also been blocked. When asked about the encroachment, the authorities of Yoga Gram told the SDM that the area was barricaded because of the fear of wild animals and since the area is so vast, we didn’t know that we had encroached upon the government land.”

What they don’t teach at camps

The yogic principles of simple living and high thinking are at odds with Baba Ramdev’s sales pitch

ACHARYA BALAKRISHNA is head of all the medical institutions run by Divya Yog Mandir (Trust). He holds the position of managing director in five companies, director in 27 companies and is an additional director in two others.

SWAMI MUKTANAND actively participates in the production of medicines at Divya Pharmacy, a unit of Divya Yog Mandir. He specialises in the preparation of chyawanprash and amrit rasayan. Swami Muktanand is on the board of 10 companies as a director and is an additional director in another firm.

BABA RAMDEV’S companies are involved in a wide range of activities including manufacturing biscuits, cosmetics and bioresearch.

OUT OF these 34 companies, Patanjali Ayurveda Limited is the largest concern with a paid up capital of 41 crore. It was this company, set up in 2006, which donated 10 lakh to the BJP during the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Balkrishna later added that the company also donated a similar amount to the Congress.

THE AYURVEDIC products made by the company are sold through a website (www.healthservices.divyayoga- .com), which includes 32 packages to tackle various diseases, some of which even the doctors don’t have a cure for. The website also sells around 225 Ayurvedic medicines, herbal products, books VCDs, DVDs, etc.

VEDIC BROADCASTING Limited, which runs the Aastha channel, has a paid up capital of Rs16 crore. Baba Ramdev shot to fame after imparting yoga lessons on this channel.

ONE CAN become a ‘dignified’ member of Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust by paying Rs 51,000. If you pay Rs 21,000, you can become a ‘respected’ member. For a corporate membership, one has to shell out Rs 11 lakh. Repeated requests by TEHELKA for a copy of the donor list were turned down by the trust.

THE TRUST has refused to disclose its worth or turnover of its companies. In the past, Ramdev has claimed that his trust is worth Rs 1,100 crore.

PATANJALI YOGPEETH Trust UK was set up in 2006. Its head office is located in Glasgow. One of the trustees, Sunita Poddar, donated an island off the shore of Scotland worth Rs 16 crore to Ramdev.

PATANJALI YOGPEETH Trust USA was established as a registered US charity in 2008 in Texas and has 400 donors. The trust recently purchased 94 acres to build a Patanjali Yogpeeth Centre in the suburbs of Houston.

The SDM also wrote; “As of now, 2.982 hectares of government land has been encroached upon by the Yoga Gram. Not only this, according to the Revenue Department, the land on which the Yoga Gram is established is not registered in the name of Yoga Gram but Kashtkar. Kindly advise for future course of action.”

No action has been taken till now. The administration is no doubt paralysed by the Baba’s high-level connections, proved by Sushma Swaraj and Nishank’s confabulations with Ramdev on 8 June.

A real estate developer of Haridwar, on condition of anonymity, says, “We all know who is the biggest buyer of land in Uttarakhand.” Another Swami, Darshan Bharti, alleges that if the government properly investigates the wealth of Ramdev, then they will find that hundred of properties are in the name of relatives of Ramdev or close associates. But this is yet to be probed, for nobody in the government is interested in such investigations.

During the opening of Patanjali’s food processing firm, Ramdev had promised that every year he would buy medicinal plants worth Rs 1,000 crore from Uttarakhand. An officer told TEHELKA, “The rate which was offered by Ramdev was so less that no farmer will be willing to sell it at that price.”

Be it Aurangabad in Haridwar, Shivdaspur alias Teliwala, Shantarshah, Bahadurpur, Badehi, Rajputan and Mustafabad, no place was secure from the shenanigans of Ramdev.

A stellar role in these real estate grab was played by his second-in-command Acharya Balkrishna. In all the 34 companies, Balkrishna is either a director or in a senior position.

BALKRISHNA MET Ramdev at a village in Haryana and since then they have been inseparable. Balkrishna, whose parents live in Syangja district of Nepal, first courted controversy when while getting a passport (AS 245797) from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, claiming he was an Indian citizen and his birthplace was Haridwar.

He travelled abroad and also acquired a pistol licence and one rifle licence based on that passport. Later, when his origin became controversial, Uttrakhand government constituted an inquiry by the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU), which found Balkrishna guilty of falsifying facts to procure his passport and gun licence. It is also alleged on the second page of the LIU report, that Balkrishna has close links with Maoists. This report was given to the SSP, Haridwar, for legal opinion.

Senior state prosecutor Bhopal Dutt Joshi, in his letter to SSPHaridwar, wrote, “As per the report of LIU, prima facie Balkrishna can be charged under IPC Section 468 and 471 and also of Indian Passport sub-section 12-A. Apart from this what is written on page No. 2 of the LIU report also needs to be probed extensively as the matter is extremely sensitive.

Shockingly, this matter was not probed further. This was also indicative of the clout now being enjoyed by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna.

However, Balkrishna has denied all the allegations levelled against him.

A secretary-level officer of Uttarakhand government had an interesting tale to tell of Balkrishna. “One day, during an inspection of the food park, I saw lush green fields. When I asked Balkrishna about it, he very snobbishly answered, ‘They belong to some foolish farmers who don’t want to sell their land to us. But where will they go? They have to come to us.’ I was surprised at the kind of arrogance displayed by someone who calls himself a sanyasi.”

There is another story that displays the seriousness with which several claims are made. In 2008, Balkrishna reached Dronagiri village of Chamoli district. Legend has it that when Lord Hanuman was unable to identify Sanjeevani booti (a lifesaving herb), he picked the whole mountain and brought it here. Balkrishna stayed there for one day and after returning to Haridwar held a press conference and claimed that he has found Sanjeevani and now people can live for hundreds of years. But when he displayed the booti, it was found that those were used by the locals on a daily basis. When his claim was ridiculed by local villagers and scientists, Balkrishna maintained a stoic silence.

A SIMILAR kind of story was repeated when Balkrishna claimed that eight herbs used in chyawanprash had been discovered by him. Whereas these are clearly listed, along with photographs, in the Forest Department gazette published in 1960.

According to sources in the Income Tax department, despite the impression that Balakrishna is the overall in-charge of affairs, the way funds have been handled by the Patanjali Yogpeeth and Divya Yog Trust clearly shows that sophisticated fund managers are involved in the financial transactions. The Income Tax department is looking for these fund managers who can tell the real story of Ramdev’s wealth and its exponential growth.

Baba Ramdev is the Hasan Ali of Haridwar’

Swami Hathyogi, spokesperson, Akhara Parishad and All India Sant Samaj, tells Brijesh Pandey that the yoga guru is no sanyasi

Swami Hathyogi

What do you think of Baba Ramdev’s fight against black money?
What about the black money of Baba Ramdev and his aide Acharya Balkrishna? He is making a fool out of the public and is not at all interested in bringing back black money in Swiss banks. The kind of deal he tried to strike with the government behind closed doors shows his real character.

What kind of differences do you have with Ramdev?
I have no personal enmity against Ramdev but I’m always against those who try to do business under the garb of being a sadhu. He is definitely not a sanyasi.

Why is that?
It is not the job of a sadhu to sell oil, soap, biscuit and yoga. I’m a sanyasi. I know about medicinal plants but do I go around selling them? When someone comes to me, I help them without taking money. Sanyasis should be living on daan (charity), not on laabh (profit) from business. That’s why I don’t consider him a sanyasi.

What do you have to say about the allegations levelled against Baba Ramdev?
He knows that he will be exposed soon and that is why he is threatening the government. Nobody supports him. He only has the backing of the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and RSS. When ND Tiwari was the chief minister of Uttarakhand, he became a Congressman. When the BJP is in power, he becomes a BJP supporter. There is no consistency in his character and soon he will be exposed. The kind of land-grab he has done makes him the Hasan Ali of Haridwar.

What do you mean by that?
He claims he is only worth Rs 1,100 crore but in reality, he is worth tens of thousands of crores.

But it seems that the general public is supporting Ramdev.
The public that he is talking about is a paid crowd. When he was at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, he claimed that lakhs and lakhs of people have come but where are the people when he is sitting for dharna in Haridwar? Has even 1,000 people turned up? The public that come to visit him is mostly paid or belong to the BJP and the RSS.

Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 24, Dated 18 June 2011
 

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