COVID-19

BJP leaders promoting fake cures for COVID-19, peddling pseudoscience

Print edition : June 18, 2021

Cow dung therapy for COVID at the Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishwavidya Pratishthanam Gaushala on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on May 9. Photo: AMIT DAVE/REUTERS

Baba Ramdev, flanked by Union Ministers Harsh Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari, releases the Patanjali medicine for COVID-19, at a press conference in New Delhi on February 19. Photo: R.V. MOORTHY

Elected BJP representatives find novel ways to promote fake cures for the coronavirus infection.

In December last year, Union Minister Ramdas Athawale boasted, “Earlier I gave the slogan, ‘Go Corona, Go’, and now corona is going. For the new coronavirus strain, I give the slogan, ‘No Corona, Corona No’.” This could have been dismissed as inanity but for the fact that the country was witnessing an explosion of fresh cases. The Minister was guilty of promoting complacency at a time when care and caution was necessary.

That, however, did not prove a deterrent for a host of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Members of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly and other leaders who have been promoting fake cures to fight the infection. They sought to push the Hindutva agenda of Indian civilisation, including its medical system, being supreme. A little before Athawale sought to exorcise the coronavirus, his ministerial colleague Arjun Ram Meghwal was all over social media promoting “Bhabhiji ke Papad” as a cure for coronavirus. The ‘papad’ (a flatbread made with lentils), he claimed, contained ingredients that helped develop antibodies. A few weeks later, Meghwal was to test positive for COVID-19. That put an end to promotion of “papad”.

But his party colleagues did not learn a lesson from Meghwal’s experience. They found novel ways to promote fake cures for the infection. In May, when the pandemic was at its peak, Pragya Thakur, Bhopal Member of Parliament, boasted that consumption of cow urine helped strengthen her lungs. “If we have desi gau mutra [urine from an indigenous cow] every day, then it cures lung infection from COVID. I take cow urine every day. Now I don’t have to take any medicine against corona, and I do not have corona. Cow urine is a life saver,” Pragya Thakur told her party colleagues. They did not challenge her. It was left to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to clear the air. “There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine boosts immunity against COVID-19,” an IMA functionary told news agencies. Two years ago, Pragya Thakur had claimed to have cured her cancer with cow urine.

The IMA disclaimer failed to dissuade other BJP leaders and their followers from going on with the cow dung smear and cow urine drinking parties. Surendra Singh, BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, recommended drinking “cow urine with a glass of cold water”. When to have it, and in what quantity, he did not clarify.

Also read: The deadly Black Fungus

Surendra Singh, it became clear later, was merely reiterating what the West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh had said in the run-up to March-April Assembly election. In a desperate bid to push the Hindutva agenda in the border State, Ghosh claimed, “I have no qualms in accepting I consume cow urine.” At an event in Kolkata, he urged the gathering to consume cow urine to guard against COVID-19.

From West Bengal in the east to Gujarat in the west this dire attempt to push cow urine and cow dung as a safeguard or cure for coronavirus infection continued apace. This incessant propaganda by high-profile leaders had an impact on the common man. When Gujarat tried to cope with a surge in positive cases in March-April, many people went to cow shelters to smear cow dung all over themselves. People, including doctors, waited at the shelters for the dung and urine to dry before washing it off with buttermilk. This forced the IMA to issue another statement, reiterating that cow dung or urine, whether from an Indian cow, or otherwise, would not help in combating the dreaded disease.

Soon, scientists discovered a link between cow urine consumption and black fungus. Doctors saw a link between steroids used to treat COVID and reaction to cow urine. Dr Faheem Younus, a United States-based doctor who has gained quite a following since the pandemic began, tweeted: “use of cow dung as a COVID cure could be causing deadly black fungus disease in India. I cannot prove it but it’s highly likely. Weigh your risks”. Not everybody did.

Mobile ‘havan’ purification

Madhya Pradesh leader Usha Thakur waxed eloquent about the benefits of “havan” in driving away the dreaded disease. She claimed that the traditional fire ritual helped in combating the pandemic. “We appeal to all to perform yagna, offer oblation and purify the environment because performing the sacred ritual to eliminate pandemic has been a tradition since ages. Her word struck a chord with Gopal Sharma, a BJP leader in Meerut, who blew a conch and performed a mobile havan across the streets of the western Uttar Pradesh town which has reported a high number of COVID cases. He blew a conch and shouted ‘Go Corona Go’, even as his partymen lit the sacred fire.

Vijay Sankeshwar, a BJP leader in Karnataka, advised people to administer lime juice through their nostrils to improve oxygen levels. At a time when people were virtually begging for oxygen cylinders on social media, Sankeshwar claimed that 200 people in his family and friends circle had reported improvement in their oxygen levels after following his advice.

Also read: Misplaced optimism as COVID numbers decline

Many people criticised Sankeshwar. Soon, though, the AYUSH Ministry walked tantalisingly close to his viewpoint with its own guidelines to prevent the fatal disease. It advised people to “apply sesame oil/coconut oil/cow ghee…in both the nostrils in morning and evening.” For those who struggled to put oil in their nostrils, the Ministry had an alternative: “take one tablespoon sesame oil or coconut oil in the mouth” and “swish it in the mouth for two or three minutes and spit it off followed by warm water rinse”.

Then there was Baba Ramdev’s ‘Coronil’.With Union Ministers Harsh Vardhan and Nitin Gadkari by his side, the yoga guru claimed at the launch of the product that it was the first Ayurvedic cure for coronavirus and the ‘first evidence-based medicine by Patanjali’. The evidence did not hold for long as the medical fraternity questioned his claims. The World Health Organisation denied certifying any such cure. Its South Asia handle posted on Twitter that the global health body had "not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment of COVID-19."

All this, however, did not prevent the Haryana government from pushing ‘Coronil’ to unsuspecting patients. “One lakh Patanjali Coronil kits will be distributed free of cost among COVID patients in Haryana. Half of the cost of Coronil has been borne by Patanjali and half by the Haryana government’s Covid Relief Fund,” State Health Minister Anil Vij tweeted in Hindi, shortly after recovering from COVID on May 25.

The move came hot on the heels of the medical fraternity rising as one against Ramdev’s disparaging remarks against allopathy, questioning the efficacy of Feviflu, Remdesivir and steroids and other drugs used in COVID cure. Former IMA chief Vinay Aggarwal demanded Ramdev’s arrest. “At a time when medical professionals are working shoulder to shoulder to curtail mortalities, we have a repeat offender who is flouting government protocols. Instead of exhibiting sensitivity, he is even questioning people’s death. He should be arrested.” Ramdev, it may be recalled, had mocked those who complained of lack of oxygen, arguing there was enough in their lungs and in the atmosphere.

Also read: Missteps in India's COVID vaccination policy

It was left to a lone voice in the BJP to question such acts of falsehood. The Uttar Pradesh MLA Rakesh Rathore questioned all such dubious moves, including the Prime Minister’s call early last year to bang plates. The idea of beating plates to defeat the coronavirus was “breaking the record for foolishness”, Rathore said. He was promptly served a notice by the party.

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