NEW DELHI: Well, finally Baba Ramdev has made it to the front pages of a prestigious foreign newspaper, in this case The New York Times. But perhaps not for reasons that will make him happy.

Headlined as above, the article by NYT’s Robert F.Worth carries the tantalising caption ‘Baba Ramdev built a business empire out of mass yoga camps and ayurvedic products. But is his pious traditionalism a mask for darker forces?

The article begins with a scene at Chhatasal Stadium in New Delhi famous for wresting. And states, Ramdev took the microphone and introduced the phalanx of several hundred Hindu religious students, known as brahmacharis, sitting in neat rows on the field. Everyone repeat after me: “Bharat mata ki jai!” he shouted. The crowd raised their arms and pumped their fists as they chanted the words — “India my motherland is great” — that have become a defining slogan of the Hindu nationalist movement.”

Comparing Ramdev to the right wing Southern Baptist “firebrand” who advised several US Presidents, Worth writes: “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. He appeared alongside Modi on several occasions, singing the leader’s praises and urging Indians to turn out for him. Ramdev has called Modi “a close friend,” and the prime minister publicly lauds Patanjali’s array of ayurvedic products — medicines, cosmetics and foodstuffs. 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.), including the current ministers of foreign affairs, internal security, finance and transportation, 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. After Modi won, Ramdev claimed to have “prepared the ground for the big political changes that occurred.””

And added: “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.”

And interestingly, the article sees Ramdev as India’s answer to US President Donald Trump adding that the yoga man might “run for prime minister himself.” The comparisons between Ramdev and Trump as listed by Worth include, a multibillion dollar empire; bombastic TV personality whose relationship with truth is elastic; and inability to resist a branding opportunity with his name and face everywhere.

And according to the NYT “in a sense, Ramdev is more powerful than any prime minister. He may be a wholly new breed: a populist tycoon, protected from critics (and even, to some extent, from the law) by a vast following and a claim to holy purpose.”

Worth has interviewed Ramdev and records him: “Country first,” he said. “This is a must. Not, ‘I’m great, my caste is great,’ but my country is great. Unlike Muslim leaders — they say Islam is great. I say, No: The nation is great, the citizen is great.”

And as the article points out, two years ago when a Muslim politician did not chant a nationalist slogan Ramdev led him to a right wing rally saying that were it not for his respect for the law “we would behead hundreds of thousands” of such people. A court later issued a warrant for Ramdev’s arrest, though the matter appears to have been dropped.”

The article carries photographs of Ramdev withPM Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, in yoga postures, at a rally,and discusses the rise and rise of his Patanjali enterprise in some detail. The story is woven into the current political and communal environment, along with the play of partisanship and sheer power. As Worth noted, “Ramdev appears to have a second layer of insurance: The clouds that hang over him also hang over his political patrons. Modi is regarded by much of the secular elite as a criminal because of his supposed role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. His close ally Amit Shah, the leader of the B.J.P. and by most accounts the second-most-powerful man in India, was arrested in 2010 and charged with arranging the murder of an underworld couple in police custody and making it look as if they were killed during a shootout. The case was ultimately dropped, but suspicions about Shah’s role linger, fueled by a recent series of investigative stories in the Indian press. Modi and Shah respond to their accusers in exactly the same way Ramdev does, by lambasting the secular elite. Their shared feelings of unjust persecution appear to thicken their bond with Ramdev.”