Baba Ramdev (born Ramkrishana Yadev) is the latest incarnation of the spiritual political reformer, an archetype familiar to Indian history. Whether expressed by the ancient emperor Ashoka who embraced nonviolent Buddhism, or Mohandas Gandhi who upended the British Raj in the 20th century, or Anna Hazare who is rivaling Ramdev for mastery of the anticorruption moment in India, the message is similar: Inward purification is the way to cure a body politic that's fallen ill.
Reforms that have brought new wealth to a growing middle class have also introduced new temptations like fast food and an array of international products from Western movies to Levi’s jeans. Ramdev is credited with helping reintroduce yoga and good health to a country undergoing massive social change.
In the seven years since he began airing his yoga sessions, his popularity has exploded. Some 30 million Indians watch his show each morning.
Along the way, the yoga guru has amassed a personal fortune and numerous critics who view him as a charlatan or a stooge of right-wing Hindu parties. Still, millions of his followers believe the guru has his finger on the disgruntled pulse of Indian society.
Many share his views that the government has been blackened by corruption and Indian society tainted by the invasion of foreign goods. His solutions echo Gandhian concepts of swaraj, or self-rule, which starts with self-purification, and swadeshi, or self-sufficiency, which includes rejecting dependence on imports and foreign ways.
For many, despite the loud criticism against him, Ramdev's shift from promoting a personal health campaign to encouraging a call for national wellness seems natural.
His folksy reputation, which includes his belief that homosexuality can be healed through yoga, has made him an overnight success. Many believe Ramdev has healed them from ailments such as Hepatitis B and now devote their lives to following him.