In India, Seeking Revolution in a Democracy
By MANU JOSEPH
Published: June 8, 2011
* SIGN IN TO E-MAIL
NEW DELHI — Swami Ramdev is a yoga instructor in saffron robes; he walks on wooden sandals and has an elastic body, an involuntary wink, flowing black hair and a full beard. He claims to have renounced worldly pleasures, but that excludes flying in private jets. He is at the helm of a thriving business in traditional treatments, herbal products, media and textiles that is worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars. Nebulous details of his holdings are still trickling in. Among his many stated views about a nation gone astray are that homosexuality is a sickness that needs curing, film actresses are immoral, the corrupt should be hanged from a rope and high-denomination notes should be banned to discomfort the “black money” economy. On Saturday, he went on a fast-unto-death in Delhi to demand, among other things, that the Indian government bring back illicit funds that its citizens have stashed in other countries. Thousands gathered on a large ground to watch him, millions more on television. The government, including the prime minister, had pleaded with him not to go on the fast. Then, before its first day was complete, the police came to take him away. When some of his followers turned violent, tear gas shells were fired to disperse the crowd. In the confusion, Swami Ramdev escaped. The police found him in female attire, trying to get away in the company of women. His thick, full beard gave him away, though he did try to cover it with a veil. He was flown to a place far from Delhi and freed. He wept in front of the cameras and accused the government of plotting to kill him. On Wednesday, he told a gathering that he would soon arm his supporters with weapons to fight the government. The yoga instructor is the latest mascot of middle-class...