Ramdev's Patanjali group said his video had been edited and the statement "taken out of context". (File)
Yoga guru Ramdev, the face of one of India's biggest consumer goods and alternative medicine empires, on Sunday said he was "withdrawing" remarks in which he ostensibly said more people died of modern medical treatments during the COVID-19 crisis than the coronavirus itself following a massive controversy.
"Received your letter Dr Harsh Vardhan. In that context and to end the whole controversy over the conflict of different treatments with regrets, I am withdrawing my statement," he tweeted, hours after Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan asked him to rescind the remarks.
However, just eight minutes later, he also retweeted a post by a Twitter user that said: "Yoga and Ayurveda give us compete health. Modern medical science has limitations. It only gives symptomatic treatment whereas Yoga and Ayurveda gives systemic treatment."
In a two-page letter in Hindi, Dr Vardhan had written to him, "The people of the country are very hurt with your remark on allopathic medicines. I have already told about this feeling over phone. Doctors and health workers are like gods for the people of the country for whom they are fighting against the coronavirus risking their lives."
"You have not only insulted Corona warriors, but have hurt the feelings of the people of the country. Your clarification yesterday is not enough to make up for it... I hope you will think hard on it and withdraw your statements completely," he added.
Ramdev had drawn outrage and a legal notice from the the Indian Medical Association (IMA), demanding a written apology for the statement that it said damaged the reputation of practitioners of allopathy and modern medicine when they are striving to save lives during the pandemic.
In a video that was widely shared on social media, Ramdev was heard saying at a recent event, "Lakhs of people have died because of allopathic medicines, far more than those who died because they did not get treatment or oxygen." He also purportedly called allopathy a "stupid and bankrupt" science.
NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video.
Facing a backlash over the comments, Ramdev's Patanjali group initially said the video had been edited and the statement "taken out of context". The 55-year-old saffron-robed producer of Ayurvedic products had "no ill-will against modern science and good practitioners of modern medicine", it said.
"It is necessary to mention that the event was a private event and Swami jee (Ramdev) was reading out a forwarded WhatsApp message received by him and various other members who were participating in the event... what is being attributed against him is false and nugatory," it said.
Patanjali, based in Uttarakhand's Haridwar, added Ramdev "believes that allopathy is a progressive science; and a combination of allopathy, Ayurveda and yoga will be beneficial to everyone during such difficult times."
Besides the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which represents 3.5 lakh doctors, the Federation of All India Medical Association (FAIMA) too served a legal notice to Ramdev, condemning the "baseless and unscrupulous claims made for cheap publicity".
The IMA, earlier in a media statement, had said the Union Health Ministry should take action and prosecute Ramdev under the Epidemic Diseases Act as he had misled people by making "unlearned" statements and defamed scientific medicine.
It also claimed that Ramdev had called doctors "murderers" in front of the Health Minister - a doctor himself - during the "release of his wonder drugs".
With close ties to the ruling BJP government, Ramdev has courted controversy during the pandemic earlier as well. Flanked by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and his colleague Nitin Gadkari, Ramdev had launched what he called the "first evidence-based medicine for COVID-19" in February.
The World Health Organisation had to issue a clarification saying it had "not reviewed or certified the effectiveness of any traditional medicine for the treatment COVID-19" after Ramdev said his medicine called Coronil had been cleared by the agency.
Ramdev's latest row erupted on a day when the IMA said as many as 420 doctors had died battling the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, making a grim total of over 1,200 since the beginning of the crisis last year.