From Ram Kishen to Baba Ramdev, the knock-kneed boy from Kalwa village of Narnaul district in Haryana has come a long way from nurturing a cult following based on televised yoga programmes to becoming a potential kingmaker who can influence votes in the next general elections.
Ramdev, who today courted arrest, blocked highways in the national capital and spewed venom at the Congress while threatening to unseat them from their seats of power, has finally shown off his strength, making him a potential force to deal with in the next elections.
But it wasn’t always like this. An early profile of him in Tehelka in 2005 documented his rapid growth from being just a teacher of yoga to a shrewd operator of a business empire that claimed to cure almost every ailment using either yoga asanas or ayurveda.
In an interview in 2005, the guru who was still relatively candid said:
When I used to walk, my knees would rub against each other. I was fat as a child. Other children used to make fun of me by calling me petla (fat). I was struck by paralysis when I was two-and-a-half. Today, I have cured many of paralysis by pranayam. I’ve cured a person of liver cirrhosis
After learning yoga from books as a teenager, Ramdev reportedly went to the mountains where he lived as an ascetic, improved his yoga skills, provided cures to those who visited him and slowly made the ascent to a yoga guru who offered people a cure to almost every ailment, irrespective of what medical science dictated.
Ramdev admitted in an interview to Headlines Today that he also quickly realised that yoga didn’t matter if it offered only spiritual benefit, people wanted something a little more material, and with television providing a platform, Ramdev quickly taught people the health benefits of yoga.
Thousands, including political leaders, queued up across the country to attend his yoga camps, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning just to do yoga with the man they had seen, followed and believed.
Ramdev and his associates were quick to milk his popularity and growing clout, buying acres of land in Uttarakhand and Sikkim and building a pharmaceutical empire that is accused of generating revenues in multiple crores and evading paying tax of an equivalent amount.
After courting controversial stances on issues ranging from AIDS to homosexuality, Ramdev was quick to see an opportunity in the success of Anna Hazare‘s anti-corruption movement in 2011, and in spite of some opposition from some Team Anna members he managed to become associated with the movement.
He managed to break away and came up with his battle cry. The issue of money stashed away illegally in international bank accounts was a rather vague one but there was no major political party, barring the Congress, which did not support his campaign. Buoyed by the dissolution of the Anna Hazare struggle into a disjointed political plan, the Congress tried the route of discrediting and ignoring Ramdev’s fast at Ramlila.
However, if today’s end to his hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan is any indication, it is anything but the end of Ramdev’s movement. Suddenly he’s the poster boy for anti-corruption, black money and the the shoulder from which a divided BJP can take potshots at the Congress.
He has the funds to run a long political race, a committed following that most political parties would envy and already has the backing of the biggest opposition party in the country. Wisely Ramdev, like Anna Hazare, has decided not to step into the world of politics and has only promised a quasi-political body that will merely ensure candidates he doesn’t like won’t win.
Like with his unique brand of televised yoga, Ramdev has stepped beyond the shadow of Anna Hazare and arrived as a political entity that no party can ignore ahead of the next election.