SUPPORTERS of a yoga guru in India clashed with police yesterday as they tried to barge into the office of a communist leader who accused him of using human and animal bones for medication.
Swami Ramdev, a bare-chested guru who wears a saffron wraparound and shawl, has a strong following in many parts of India and claims to cure illnesses through breathing exercises and traditional medicines.
But Brinda Karat, a Marxist party leader, this week accused him of using human and animal bones in his medicines, provoking a strong denial from Ramdev and angry protests by his supporters.
More than 100 of them descended on the office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shouting slogans against Ms Karat and trying to force their way in. Police barred them from the building.
The charges and countercharges in the argument have been splashed across the front pages of Indian newspapers, highlighting the divide between contemporary India's left-leaning political culture and the subcontinent's deeply rooted religious traditions.
The uproar started after Ms Karat, who last year investigated allegations of labour law violations at Ramdev's pharmacy in the northern state of Uttaranchal, had tests carried out on medicines made there and said traces of crushed human skulls had been found in the treatments. She did not say why anyone would put human parts in Ayurvedic medicine.
The charges were angrily denied by Ramdev, who hosts a popular television yoga show and like many in the region uses just one name.
In an interview with the Times of India, he accused her of being in league with multinational drug makers who want to put him out of business.
Politicians have also waded into the row.
The Indian health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, acknowledged that Ms Karat's test did indicate the presence of human parts in Ramdev's medicine, but said further tests would have to be conducted on samples collected by officials, as the law demands.
"We've referred the matter to the drug controller of Uttaranchal," he told reporters, referring to the northern state where the drugs are made.
If the new tests on the drugs, labelled as purely herbal, were also positive for human and animal parts, criminal action would be taken, he said.
Still, state officials and opposition Hindu nationalist politicians were lining up in Ramdev's corner.
SK Das, the Uttaranchal health minister, said tests carried out by the state last year found only permissible animal parts such as cow horns in the remedies. "We found no human parts as had been complained by Karat," Mr Das said.
Ram Madhav, a spokesman for the hard-line Hindu movement Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said that Ms Karat was part of "a conspiracy hatched by retrograde leftists to demean reputed persons of Bharatiya [Indian] culture."
Prakash Javdekar, a spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, called Ms Karat's campaign a "motivated attempt to hurt the faith of Indians in yoga and Ayurveda."