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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One Ramdev fight: Wal-Mart
At a time when the government is trying to push through the biggest reforms in two decades, Ramdev has a different vision for the country’s future. Congress wants to expand foreign direct investment in the retail sector, opening the door for big-box stores like Wal-Mart.Skip to next paragraph
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Ramdev, on the other hand, wants Indians to boycott all foreign products and buy only Indian brands.
He says the greatest threat facing the country is the illegal money many wealthy Indians keep stashed away in overseas bank accounts. He promises his followers and the rural poor that once this money is brought back to India, the economic problems facing the country will be solved.
“Now we have enough money, infrastructure, technology, and professionals to support us,” says Ramdev, who grew up in a rural farming village in the state of Haryana. “India has everything we need. We don’t need foreign support.”
The government says foreign investment would bring needed upgrades to how India gets its goods to market. At the moment, up to 40 percent of the country's produce rots before ever reaching market, yet India suffers from one of the world's highest malnutrition rates.
Ramdev insists the way forward is for India to reinvest in its own farmers and foster self-reliance through traditional practices. In agriculture, he supports cow-based farming, which makes use of traditional methods such as using cow manure and urine, instead of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The guru has even developed a cleaning-product line made from cow urine. Every day some 4,000 liters of cow urine is collected from villages near Patanjali. In the absence of modern machinery, workers collect the urine with their bare hands by soaking the liquid up with a rag and wringing it into a bucket or catching it as it comes from the cow. The cleaning product and hundreds of other products are sold in villages across the country and can even be purchased through Ramdev’s online store.
Ramdev, the political neophyte
Some of the skepticism about Ramdev as a serious political contender stems from his lack of experience in the political arena.
"He doesn’t have the civil-service experience that typifies most political players,” says Gurcharan Das, an Indian economist and author. He says it takes years to form a powerful political movement, and Ramdev does not have that kind of know-how or support.
“I don’t think these people will follow him down a political path,” says Mr. Das. “For them he is simply a yogi.”
But for many he is quickly becoming something they can relate to on multiple levels. Homemaker Aruna Rathi begins her mornings sitting cross-legged with her family on the living-room floor, each of them watching Ramdev on TV.
“My son asks me before buying anything, ‘is it an Indian product?' ” says Ms. Rathi.
Along with breathing exercises, she has embraced his wider platform as well, eschewing imports, using Ramdev’s yellow-tinged cleansers in her kitchen, and raising her 10-year-old son to reject McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.