x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Indians turn out in thousands to support yoga guru's hunger strike

Baba Ramdev said he would not eat for three days to pressure the government to bring back billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains - so-called black money - stashed in foreign banks.

NEW DELHI // Tens of thousands of Indians shouting patriotic slogans massed at a New Delhi fairground yesterday to support a yoga guru's anti-corruption hunger strike.

Baba Ramdev said he would not eat for three days to pressure the government to bring back billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains - so-called black money - stashed in foreign banks.

The protest comes less than a week after a similar protest by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare failed to attract the huge crowds that had turned out a year ago. With national attention fading, Mr Hazare ended his protest and his supporters said they would give up agitating and form a political party instead.

Supporters jammed traffic across the city as they walked to the sprawling Ramlila grounds and buses from nearby states converged on the capital. About 20,000 people pledged their support for Ramdev's campaign to wipe out tax evasion and endemic corruption in India.

Squatting on the ground and fanning themselves with bits of cardboard in the sweltering monsoon heat, supporters cheered as Mr Ramdev, wearing saffron robes, spoke.

"I am not against any political party. My protest is only to end black money and to bring back to this country what rightfully belongs to the people of India," he said.

Though poor acoustics made it difficult to hear Mr Ramdev, his supporters were unfazed, saying they already knew what he stood for.

"He is our hope for the future. He will save this country from the politicians," said Amulya Kumar, a farm labourer from Bihar, who was holding a small bundle of clothes and food.

Along with his teenage nephew, Mr Kumar had travelled two days by train from Bihar's poverty-stricken Munger district for the rally.

Millions of Indians tune in every day to watch Mr Ramdev perform yoga exercises on his television show. In the past few years he has transformed his popularity as a yoga guru to highlight his campaign against corruption.