Swami turns ‘politician’ to save India

Editorial, Normal

His arithmetic is simple or, depending on your outlook, simplistic . . . some 30 million Indians have already attended his Yoga camps. Given an average family of five, this translates into 150 million supporters, writes COOMI KAPOOR


YET another political party is born. And it is not a run-of-the-mill outfit led by professional politicians.
No, this one is headed by India’s most well-known saffron-clad swami (religious man).
Swami Ramdev can be seen live on his own dedicated television channel every morning, teaching yoga to thousands of health-conscious disciples in his sprawling ashram on the banks of the Ganges in the holy city of Hardwar, a three-hour drive from the national capital.
Of course, Ramdev is an unusual swami.
The bearded monk first won his spurs as a practitioner-cum-teacher of yoga, having himself survived a life-threatening ailment when barely out of his teens.
Having learnt the basics as an inmate of a rural ashram in his home state of Haryana, Ramkishan Yadav, the name he was born under, gained national popularity in the early 1990s when in his new avatar as Baba Ramdev, conducted an early morning yoga programme on a satellite television channel.
The immense popularity of that programme, with tens of thousands of viewers following instructions in the privacy of their homes as the swami shouted instructions from the television studio while himself performing the same yoga asanas (postures), made him a household name.
Given the sedentary lifestyle of the city folks, and the rising tide of ill-health, Ramdev’s simple-to-practise yoga accompanied by a commentary on benefits of each asana was an instant hit.
Devoid of any religious content and conducted in a simple, spoken Hindi, young and old, men and women, followed him on television as he conducted them through various yogic exercises.
Soon the television guru graduated to his own ashram in the holy town of Hardwar.
With one thing leading to another, today Ramdev has a yoga-centred empire running into millions of dollars.
Given his growing foreign following, especially among foreigners of Indian origin, he is set to divide his time between India and abroad.
Now, this simple-minded yoga expert has been bitten by the political bug.
Of late, he has been interspersing his instructions about yogic postures with critical comments on the ills of the society in general and of governance in particular.
He routinely rails against political and bureaucratic corruption, holding the entire political class guilty for the rot in society.
Political corruption, he says, is the biggest enemy of the nation.
Though he has also touched on current issues such as a court ruling legalising homosexuality, it is the corrupt and criminal politicians who have drawn his ire the most.
His camps in Hardwar can be the source of the first lot of foot soldiers for his political party. He has yet to choose a name for his party, waiting for the legal formalities to be completed.
But he is oozing with optimism, declaring that he would field candidates in all 542 parliamentary constituencies and win easily.
And, pronto, should things work out as per plan, at the end of the next parliamentary poll due in 2014, Ramdev’s yet to be christened political outfit ought to be in power in New Delhi.
Of course, Baba Ramdev has a right to dream. But, if experience is any guide, Indians do not easily take to a new-fangled party.
It is one thing to heed his yoga teachings, quite another to follow his politics.
Clearly, politics is not for saffron-robed swamis even in a predominantly god-fearing country like India.


Coomi Kapoor is resident editor of The Indian Express Group and writes a weekly column on political developments. She was recently elected secretary-general of the Editors Guild of India