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Baba Ramdev: Can a yogi turn Indian politics on its head?

Baba Ramdev is a Hindu yoga guru-turned-anticorruption campaigner. He's the latest incarnation of the spiritual political reformer, an archetype running throughout Indian history.

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Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev gestures while addressing a press conference in New Delhi last month.

Mustafa Quraishi/AP

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It’s not yet 5 a.m, but hundreds of Indians are quietly shuffling into a football-field-sized yoga hall.

A sea of people in white and saffron orange – gangling aging men in loincloths, young angelic-looking women in pajamas, and wide-eyed children – sit cross-legged on yoga mats. On the stage before them sits their full-bearded and bare-chested guru, Baba Ramdev.

Through the windows behind him the sun rises, a deep red. His followers wait for him to begin what will be a four-hour session: He’ll move through a series of acrobatic postures that range from walking upside down on his hands to blowing hard, hissing breaths out his nose. But Ramdev’s yoga is not just about the body, the breath, or the mind.

 It is also about politics.

He ends his session with a fiery political speech about the corruption facing India’s Congress Party-led government and his disdain for foreign influences in the country. His voice grows angry. He hollers and rails against the corruption and graft. The tranquility of the morning is shattered. His followers join the frenzy, jumping to their feet and wildly clapping their hands. Some pull Indian flags out from under their mats and whirl them above their heads.

“Hindustan! Hindustan! Hindustan!” They shout the popular name for the Indian subcontinent, capping the end of a spectacle televised every morning to tens of millions of Indian homes.

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