A popular yoga guru and thousands of his supporters were detained by police yesterday as they tried to march to India’s parliament to intensify an anti-corruption protest and press for a change of government.
As he was led away by police, Baba Ramdev shouted slogans urging his supporters to fight to end India’s endemic corruption and seek the repatriation of billions of dollars in illegal money he says Indians have stashed in foreign banks.
Waving Indian flags and shouting slogans, the protesters climbed into a row of police buses parked around the sprawling New Delhi fairground that Ramdev and his supporters had occupied for the past four days. Police said the protesters would be taken to a stadium on the outskirts of the city and would likely be released by last night.
Before the march, the bearded, saffron-clad yogi urged his supporters to throw out the ruling Congress Party and bring in a “clean” government.
“Throw out the Congress; save the country,” he shouted as his followers applauded and cheered wildly.
Ramdev, who had not eaten for the past four days, had set a Sunday evening deadline for a response from the government to his protest, but received none.
“The government has become completely deaf. We have to make them hear us. Now our protest will move from here to the doorstep of the parliament,” Ramdev said.
Ramdev told his supporters to be prepared to go to jail during their march since police would try to stop them from holding a rally near parliament. He urged his followers to remain peaceful and not resort to violence as police removed them from Ramlila Ground.
Ramdev has been demanding a robust ombudsman law to keep checks on government, a strong and independent Central Bureau of Investigation and efforts to act against tax evasion and illegal money sent to banks abroad.
Although Ramdev has often said he is not aligned with any political party, yesterday he was joined by leaders from the main opposition parties.
Nitin Gadkari, president of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, and Sharad Yadav of the socialist party were among those who addressed the crowd yesterday, promising their support in the fight against corruption.
Ramdev’s protest comes more than a week after the latest hunger strike by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare failed to attract the huge crowds that had turned out for his past protests. Hazare and his supporters said they would give up agitating and join politics instead.
Millions of Indians tune in every day to watch Ramdev perform yoga exercises on his popular TV show. In the past few years he has used his popularity to highlight his campaign against corruption.
However, support for Ramdev’s protest has been dwindling, with the crowds thinning in recent days. There were about 10,000 people in attendance yesterday, less than half the number at the start of the protest.