Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, known for twisting his body through a series of difficult yoga poses and having millions of followers, has drawn the church’s criticism for his ties with right-wing groups infamous for attacking Christians.
Delhi’s Catholic Archbishop, Vincent Concessao, condemned the yoga teacher’s ongoing mass campaign which seeks to curb corruption but is being supported and “hijacked” by Hindu radical groups, The Indian Express reported Wednesday.
Over 100,000 people joined Ramdev’s “fast-unto-death” against illegal money stashed in banks abroad by corrupt politicians and tax evaders June 4 in New Delhi. However, a police crackdown forced his followers to return in the night. Police also detained Ramdev, saying he had sought permission to hold a rally for yoga and not a protest.
Hundreds of Indian-American followers across the United States also observed fast in support of Ramdev, who claims to give health and happiness to his followers and cure cancer and AIDS through yoga, according to New Delhi Television.
Friday was the seventh day of fasting by the 46-year-old yoga guru.
The archbishop, who actively participates in civil society movements, said he was “sad” to see and hear “a known anti-minorities baiter” Sadhvi Ritmbara sharing the stage with Ramdev.
Ritmbara is a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the World Hindu Council, which is believed to be behind India’s worst incidents of violence against Christian and Muslim minorities.
“One also saw a large number of saffron clad men adorning the dais, raising questions in our minds whether it was a national movement or political and/or a religious movement,” Concessao said in a statement.
The archbishop condemned the police crackdown but justified the questioning by police who had given permission to the yoga guru only to conduct a yoga camp.
“The incident shows the unholy mix of religion and politics,” UCANEWS quoted Catholic Church spokesperson Dr. Babu Joseph as saying.
Samuel Jaikumar from the National Council of Churches in India, a body representing mainline Protestants, said Ramdev’s protest had a “communal element” to it as it was reportedly supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the country’s largest and most influential Hindu nationalist organization, according to the Catholic news agency.
“Real issues like corruption and black money have taken a back seat,” Jaikumar added.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking to gain political mileage out of Ramdev’s campaign.
Concessao said he did not “support arm twisting methods or the agenda of clean governance to be usurped by politicians for their own political gains.”
Christian Rights groups say on average around 200 incidents of attacks on Christians are reported each year and a majority of them can be attributed to groups like the World Hindu Council.
In 2008, over 100 Christians were killed and thousands of houses and churches burned in eastern Orissa state’s Kandhamal district. It is believed that the World Hindu Council was one of the groups that incited the violence.
Ramdev, who has assets worth millions of dollars and is considered close to the opposition party, is demanding that the government led by the Indian National Congress party bring back the illegal money to India and enact law providing for the death penalty for corrupt officials.