With his flowing beard and saffron robes, he might seem like he’s just stepped off the sets of a mythology-based television serial. And certainly Baba Ramdev, a new-age yoga guru with an athletic build, is dominating Indian airwaves—with both his televised performances of complicated yoga asanas and his candid comments against corruption.
Andy Buchanan/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Baba Ramdev credits yoga for his miraculous turnaround from paralysis. Above, Baba Ramdev practiced yoga in Scotland.
On Saturday, he’s set to go on a hunger strike in New Delhi to call on the government to take steps against “black money”–tax evasion and the sending of illicit funds overseas.
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pleaded with him to cease and desist, arguing that all Indians are on the same side when it comes to fighting corruption. In the run-up to the hunger strike, the Indian government has announced the creation of a committee to estimate how much money has been unlawfully sent overseas, while the tax department set up a unit to track such funds.
But to no avail.
The guru arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday on a private chartered jet, and after posing in its doorway, was greeted by ministers, rather like a visiting foreign dignitary.
At the airport he called on Indians to join him in his fight against black money with a sit-in at a site in central Delhi where preparations have been underway all week.
“This struggle is a great one,” he told reporters. “It’s not an easy thing to change a system but we will try because millions of people support it.”
But who is Baba Ramdev and what has earned him such treatment?
Baba Ramdev, who hails from a peasant family in Haryana, credits yoga for his miraculous turnaround from paralysis when he was a child. He says he began practicing it at the age of nine. “My left side was paralyzed. I had boils on my legs and I couldn’t walk,” he said in an interview with the Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday.
“My parents were illiterate farmers. I too have done farming, from sowing to harvesting the crops, from lifting cowdung—everything that an aam aadmi of Hindustan does,” he told the Indian Express.
According to the Web site of the Bharat Swabhiman Trust (Indian Self-Pride Trust), a civic organization founded by Baba Ramdev, the guru’s two goals are “the propagation of yoga” and “reforming the social, political and economic system of India.”
Over the last two decades, the propagation of yoga appears to have gone pretty well, through yoga camps organized frequently both in India and overseas (Belarussians, he’s in Minsk in July), and in the last decade, through widely watched television shows that have gained him thousands more followers along the way. He also has a line of medications based on ayurvedic principles. And although there have sometimes been complaints about his medications, in dozens of testimonials on his Web sites people extol yoga or his medicines for freeing them from cancer or other apparently incurable diseases.
A senior official of the Bharat Swabhiman Trust, Rakesh Kumar, told India Real Time that he believes the guru is loved for his healing abilities. He also said Baba Ramdev’s programs are now watched in more than 200 countries. A book published last year tries to piece together how Baba Ramdev fits into India’s long tradition of spiritual healers.
The guru appears to be expanding his network’s reach. One recent report said that the U.K.-based branch of his Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust had acquired properties in Scotland.
It’s unclear what sort of wealth the various trusts have amassed, prompting one politician to call for a federal agency to investigate Baba Ramdev’s assets earlier this year. The guru is not under investigation.
In recent months, Baba Ramdev appears to be moving on to his second goal, by forming part of a coalition called India Against Corruption and marching around the country to rail against corruption since September last year.
“Through this journey he met approximately 200,000 people every day” said Mr. Kumar, speaking by phone. The spokesman said the guru’s anti-corruption fight is spurred by ancient Vedic philosophy—and not by an interest in politics.
“Baba Ramdev does not plan to start any political party and does not want to enter politics,” said Mr. Kumar. “The Vedas ask for a corruption-free society and that is why Baba has taken up this cause.”
Via: India Real Time