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India yoga guru launches anti-graft fast

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110604/wl_asia_afp/indiapoliticscorruptionprotestyogareligion;_ylt=AkKotfp75zUIdrHWCgIMcz5vaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTNoOTcyNnNyBGFzc2V0A2FmcC8yMDExMDYwNC9pbmRpYXBvbGl0aWNzY29ycnVwdGlvbnByb3Rlc3R5b2dhcmVsaWdpb24EcG9zAzIxBHNlYwN5bl9hcnRpY2xlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDaW5kaWF5b2dhZ3Vy

India yoga guru launches anti-graft fast
Baba Ramdev launched his indefinite fast against corruption and black money in Delhi on Saturday after the government failed to persuade him to call off his protest
by Penny MacRae 14 mins ago

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India‘s most celebrated yoga guru embarked on a “fast unto death” on Saturday to force the country’s scandal-tainted government to accept his maverick anti-corruption proposals.

Swami Baba Ramdev, who has wide support from right-wing Hindu groups, began his hunger strike after a pre-dawn yoga session with his followers in an anti-graft campaign that has piled fresh pressure on the embattled government.

“What will India get from this protest? India will be saved,” the saffron-clad swami declared to thousands of cheering supporters as he launched his fast in a tent the size of four football fields in the Indian capital.

The guru, who energetically performed his yoga poses on a giant stage to the delight of his audience, has called for repatriation of so-called “black money” — cash stashed in foreign accounts suspected of being used for bribes and illegal transactions — and the execution of corrupt government ministers.

“Nothing is impossible, everything is possible and we are not going to be defeated,” declared the middle-aged, pony-tailed guru as fans whirled to cool his supporters in the sweltering summer heat.

Followers fasted along with Ramdev — some lying down, others sitting cross-legged in the tent erected at a site where a Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil is celebrated every year.

“This anti-corruption fight is very important for the nation,” said one hunger striker who identified herself as Veena as followers chanted “Ramdev” and sang Hindu devotional hymns.

Ramdev’s supporters across the country joined in the fast while a 22-year-old follower in northern Muzzafapur town attempted to set himself on fire to support the guru but was stopped by police.

The Congress administration is worried the protest could mushroom into a populist campaign against the government amid outrage over a slew of corruption scandals, notably a $39 billion telecom scam that has seen a minister arrested.

The bearded guru, who claims he can “cure” homosexuality, cancer and AIDS through yoga and other alternative therapies, accused politicians of gaining vast sums “from the people’s hard-earned money”.

“All corrupt ministers should be given the death sentence,” said Ramdev, who has a huge TV following for his daily yoga show, .

The government issued a statement saying the maximum penalty for corrupt bureaucrats would be “substantially increased” and pledged speedy trials for people accused of corruption but stayed silent on the guru’s demand that they should hang.

“As far as issues we are concerned, the talks (with Ramdev’s representatives) are on (to end the protest). We want to solve the problem of corruption,” said Congress party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

But he accused Ramdev of allowing himself “to be remote controlled by political interests,” referring to hardline Hindu nationalists who were on stage with the swami. Ramdev has insisted his anti-graft movement is secular and also invited Muslim clerics to share his podium.

Commentators have questioned the government’s willingness to placate Ramdev, saying it highlighted the administration’s weakness.

“Why is the government so afraid of Ramdev?” asked the tabloid Mail Today in a front page headline, complaining “top ministers do headstands to talk Baba out of his fast plan”.

Others said Ramdev and another social activist, 73-year-old Anna Hazare, who fasted for 98 hours in April demanding a tough anti-corruption law, were holding India’s democracy to ransom with no mandate from the people.

“For the first time in India’s constitutional history, an elected government has been hijacked by intellectual charlatans… even some assorted nutcases and loonies,” wrote Shekhar Gupta, editor of the Indian Express.

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