India's TV yoga guru eyes new political posture

Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:31am EDT
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By Matthias Williams

HARIDWAR, India (Reuters) - From the Himalayan foothills he runs a $40 million-a-year health empire, owns a Scottish island and claims to cure cancer. Now, India's star yoga guru plans to enter politics to help the poor and punish the corrupt.

Swami Ramdev is out to "cleanse" the world's largest democracy of 1.2 billion people of greed and foreign influences, drawing on the support of a television audience of millions and his claim to have a follower in every Indian household.

It is too early to say whether Ramdev will prove a serious political force or a passing fad. But he could appeal to millions of Hindus whose traditional bent grates against a rapidly globalizing economy, and be a man other politicians may woo.

Dressed in his trademark orange robe, wooden sandals and lounging in a chair, Ramdev told Reuters that his party will contest all 543 seats in the next election due by 2014.

If his TV audience is anything to go by, he will have a head start. At least 30 million watch Ramdev's daily yoga teachings treating anything from diabetes to high blood pressure.

A Ramdev-led government will overhaul India's political, legal and education systems which he says are hangovers from colonial rule, and set up fast-track courts to pass sentences for capital crimes including corruption.

"People who are corrupt should face capital punishment. This is how it will stop, otherwise it won't stop," Ramdev said at his sprawling ashram in the northern town of Haridwar, one of Hinduism's holiest sites on the banks of the Ganges river.

"The policies which were formed by the British were not to run the country ... they were formulated to loot the country."   Continued...