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

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It’s a role Ramdev takes seriously. About 100 miles outside the capital, a huge archway marks the entrance of Patanjali, Ramdev’s palatial headquarters. It has a state-of-the-art medical facility that specializes in the Hindu system of traditional medicine native to India, and modern apartments that house thousands of his followers.

Here, Ramdev is training political foot soldiers. Once they complete a boot camp ranging from weeks to months, they will fan out across the country to preach yoga along with political resistance to unseat the government in the next general election in 2014.

“We will go in every house in every village and city,” says Ramdev, wiping perspiration from his brow between meetings. “Our volunteers will talk to every villager. Coming 5, 10, 25 years we will change. We want to change socially, economically, spiritually, and politically.”

It is this ability to mobilize supporters – as well as donations – that makes Ramdev a powerful force in Indian politics, says Yashwant Deshmukh, an Indian political analyst and elections expert.

Ramdev has raised hundreds of millions in financing and donations, and has raised eyebrows with the purchase of a Scottish island. The government has alleged he is involved in a $60 million tax evasion scandal.

“Baba Ramdev is one of the 'God men' who have dotted the India scene for a long time,” says Indian political columnist Amulya Ganguli. “Most of them were disreputable characters. These outsiders thought that politics could be a profitable venture so Ramdev tried to enter politics but he has not gotten anywhere.”

Mr. Ganguli echos the sentiment among critics that Ramdev’s ideas – such as his view that the English language is representative of a colonial legacy, or the fact that he professes an abhorrence of India’s most beloved sport, cricket – are outdated and outmoded.  

But some political analysts believe Ramdev is a force that can’t be ignored.

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