Today’s New York Times Magazine carries a lengthy profile of Baba Ramdev, holy man and billionaire who has increasing political power in India. Here is an excerpt:Ramdev has been a prominent voice on the Hindu right, and his tacit endorsement during the landmark 2014 campaign helped bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power…. Although Modi campaigned heavily on promises to reform India’s economy and fight corruption, there were frequent dog whistles to the Hindu nationalist base, some of them coordinated with Ramdev. A month before Modi’s landslide victory, a trust controlled by Ramdev released a video in which senior leaders of Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) … appeared alongside him with a signed document setting out nine pledges. These included the protection of cows — animals held sacred in Hinduism — and a broad call for Hindu nationalist reforms of the government, the courts, cultural institutions and education….But Ramdev is far more than a useful holy man. Even beyond his political patrons, Ramdev is the perfect messenger for a rising middle class that is hungry for religious assertion and fed up with the socialist, rationalist legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-independence leader. Ramdev has led vastly popular campaigns against corruption, donning the mantle of swadeshi, or Indian economic nationalism, to cast foreign companies as neocolonial villains. In a sense, Ramdev has changed Hinduism itself. His blend of patriotic fervor, health and religious piety flows seamlessly into the harder versions of Hindu nationalism, which are often openly hostile to India’s 172 million Muslims. Although Ramdev prefers to speak of Indian solidarity, his B.J.P. allies routinely invoke an Islamic threat and rally crowds with vows to build temples on the sites of medieval mosques.In his own way, Ramdev is India’s answer to Donald Trump, and there is much speculation that he may run for prime minister himself.



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