Yoga guru’s political foray has India in a roil

June 4, 2011

By MUNEEZA NAQVI, Associated Press

NEW DELHI – For years, the wildly energetic man with the cascade of black hair has contorted his body through a series of complex yoga poses, drawing millions of people across India to gather in front of their televisions to follow his every move.

His promise: health and happiness.

Now the charismatic and controversial yoga guru Baba Ramdev is spinning that popularity to fuel a political movement that he says will root out India’s endemic corruption.

The saffron-robed and bearded Ramdev started an indefinite hunger strike in the Indian capital Saturday that critics say undermines the country’s democratic institutions, but that he says will last until the government agrees “100 percent” to his long list of demands.

Tens of thousands of his followers also went on hunger strikes across India and in several cities in the United States, Europe and Africa, Ramdev told cheering supporters in New Delhi.

“You can drink water,” he advised them.

Ramdev chanted Hindu religious hymns and performed yoga exercises before starting his hunger strike.

He vowed to battle the pervasive culture of corruption in a country where everything from getting a driver’s license to setting up a business involves paying bribes.

“There is a powerful anger in the people of this country. They want urgent action,” he said.

Ramdev also said political parties could present him letters of support, but that he would not allow any politician to address his followers.

A 19-acre (76,200-square meter) tent was erected at a fairground in the heart of the capital where hundreds of teachers from his ashram will expound on yoga’s benefits. Ramdev said he would take a vow of silence along with giving up food.

So enormous is Ramdev’s popularity that four federal ministers showed up at the airport when his chartered plane landed in New Delhi on Wednesday. The government, already reeling from a spate of very public corruption scandals, fervently tried to persuade him to call off the public fast.

It is the second major hunger strike in recent months by an activist against corruption.

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