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October 01, 2012

Popular Indian Yoga Guru Could Influence Election

by Rebecca Byerly

Every morning tens of millions of people watch Baba Ramdev, one of India's most popular yoga gurus, on television. Internationally known for reintroducing yoga and good health practices to the subcontinent, Ramdev is now using his powerful platform to send a political message.

Gopal Singh Bisht says he was healed from Hepatitis B under Ramdev’s guidance. He believes it’s now his duty to spread the guru’s message. Soon, he will join thousands of others in traveling across India to spread the guru's message of yoga and self-reliance, while also influencing voters in the 2014 national elections.

“We want to preach to people and make them understand what is correct and what is wrong and what is only illusions they talk about," he explains. "This is how people will know the truth and select the best candidate.”

Ramdev believes supporters like Bisht are crucial to help bring about change in India.

“We will go in every house in every village and city," the guru says. "Our volunteers will talk to every villager. Coming five, ten, 25 years we will change. We want to change socially, economically, spiritually, and politically.”

Ramdev has emerged as one of the country's most vocal anti-corruption crusaders. He says the greatest threat facing India is the illegal money many wealthy Indians keep stashed away in overseas bank accounts.

A strong believer in Gandhi’s ideas of self-reliance, Ramdev wants Indians to boycott all foreign products and only buy Indian brands.

“India has everything we need. We don’t need foreign support,” he notes.

Haridwar housewife Arun Rathi has taken Ramdev's message to heart. She says her son has stopped wearing jeans and has become more politically aware.

“We use products from India so that our own country gains," she says. "My son asks me before buying anything. ‘Is it an Indian product?’”

But political activist Shazia IImi isn’t convinced Ramdev’s ideas are realistic. She, like some other political experts in India, believe Ramdev could be galvanizing support for the country's main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party.

"He can be seen as a force multiplier for the BJP in the elections," she explains, "So, his followers can really support BJP in a huge way.”

“We don’t support anyone," Ramdev insists. "Who we support we will announce before the 2014 elections.”

Bisht and Rathi see Ramdev as a political savior. They’re investing their time and hopes in what they believe is his ability to transform India -- one person, family, and village at a time.