Ramdev: Swami without Sampradaya

Baba Ramdev is from the new breed of saffron-clad sadhus: breakers of tradition, political animals without spiritual qualms

01 July 2011
Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru who for a few days mobilised thousands of supporters against corruption, is heir to an old legacy of spiritual masters with strong ties to the Sangh Parivar.

FOR A FEW DAYS IN EARLY JUNE, Baba Ramdev mobilised thousands of his supporters in India against corruption. The context was favourable: the country had already witnessed numerous scams involving politicians, followed by a virtual non-response from the Union government and the protest organised by veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare over the preceding weeks. But Ramdev’s display of strength was also a product of his long association with the Sangh Parivar.

In a recent interview with Tehelka (12 June 2011), Swami Ramdev declared: "I don’t understand why I’m seen as being close to the Sangh Parivar."The proximity, however, is easy to explain. For more than half a decade, Organiser, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece, has approvingly covered Ramdev’s actions. The affinities between his views and the doctrines of Hindu nationalism are obvious: he promotes yoga, defends Ayurveda, opposes globalisation in the name of swadeshi and is a staunch advocate of Indian majoritarianism. Following his visit to the UN in 2006, Ramdev was welcomed back to India as a hero by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Satyamitranand Giri, who compared him to Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda.

In fact, Ramdev has been associated with nearly all the offshoots of the Sangh Parivar over more than half a decade. In September 2005, he presided over the 15th annual sammelan of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the RSS, along with the then RSS sarsanghchalak, KS Sudarshan. In February 2007, he delivered the keynote address at the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch meeting. He was also a guest at the book launch for the Hindi language edition of LK Advani’s autobiography in Bhopal in July 2008.

Christophe Jafferlot  is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. He has authored several books including The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics and Sangh Parivar.

Keywords: Christophe Jaffrelot Hinduism Baba Ramdev god-men VHP RSS