New Delhi: Here is why the nation follows Ramdev. At 46, Baba Ramdev is one of India's youngest spiritualists. The sprightly, bearded, saffron robe-clad yoga guru, now being courted by the government as he launches a fast unto death against corruption, has seen a meteoric rise in the last decade.

From Haryana to the lofty Himalayas to the heartland of Indian politics, it has been a long journey.

He was born Ram Krishna Yadav to Gulab Devi and Ram Nivas Yadav in Ali Saiyad Pur village of Mahendragarh district in Haryana in 1965.

He left school after Class 8 and joined a gurukul in Haryana to study Sanskrit and yoga under Acharya Pradumn.

To his followers, he claimed he meditated for five years in the Himalayas in his 20s.

Freedom fighters Ram Prasad 'Bismil' and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose are known to be his role models.

Today, Ramdev commands a huge following -- by his account estimated at nearly three million who attend his camps, workshops and also avail of his ayurvedic treatment.

His rise to popularity has been meteoric, especially after TV started beaming his yoga exercises at a time when health awareness was growing among Indians.

The guru works out of the Patanjali Yog Peeth, a sprawling 35 acre spiritual retreat-cum-ayurvedic healthcare centre and university on the outskirts of Haridwar.

The retreat claims to have a network of nearly 600 yoga and health centres across India -- and more than 100 outside.

Ramdev also manages one of the most popular private spiritual channels on Indian television, Aastha.

Over four billion people see him in the mornings worldwide, he claims. The rival channels call it an overblown estimate.

Those close to him say the bulk of the funds for his retreat comes from generous private donations from his devotees, comprising rich businessmen and professionals from states such as Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.

His ayurvedic medicines are also in great demand.

The saffron-clad has threatened to launch a hunger strike Saturday in the Indian capital unless steps are taken to bring back black money stashed abroad and to check corruption.

Some feel this could be his stepping stone to politics.

Agencies