FaithWorld

from India Insight:

M.F. Husain, Swami Ramdev and the world’s largest democracy

M.F. Husain, India's most famous modern artist, died at the age of 95 this morning, not in Maharashtra, his home state, nor New Delhi, where many of his ground-breaking works were exhibited, but in London, where he lived in exile with Qatari citizenship. The 'Picasso of India' has for five years felt unable to live and work in his country of birth.

Husain fled India in 2006, leaving behind court cases and death threats against him, and continued vandalism of his works from right-wing Hindu groups that accused him of insulting their religion by painting deities in the nude.

Husain, a Muslim, felt unsafe and unable to practice his particular art form in the world's largest democracy. And he's not the only one. Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai but lives in the UK, saw New Delhi ban his Satanic Verses for its perceived depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

And Husain's death presents a timely reminder to India of the multi-faceted obligations of an open, secular democracy, as anti-graft movements swell against the government.

On Thursday morning, India's news channels cut to the breaking news of Husain's death from pictures of Swami Ramdev, the yoga guru turned social activist being treated by doctors monitoring his health during a hunger fast that entered its sixth day on Thursday.

Indian police break up hunger strike by yoga guru Swami Ramdev

(A supporter of India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev is detained by police at the Ramlila grounds where Ramdev was observing his fast against corruption in New Delhi June 5, 2011/stringer)

Police swooped on India’s most famous yoga guru on Sunday, using teargas and batons to break up a fast against graft, risking more political headaches for scandal-tainted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Swami Ramdev began his hunger strike with tens of thousands of followers at a tent in New Delhi on Saturday. Less than 24 hours into the fast, police detained him and flew him to near Haridwar in northern India, centre of his global yoga business.

Media said at least 30 people were injured in the pre-dawn raid at a tent where his followers, from poor villagers to foreign tourists and civil servants, had gathered. Some Ramdev supporters threw stones at police. “The permission was for a yoga camp for 5,000, not for 50,000 people for agitation. We have cancelled the permission and asked them to move out,” said Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat.

from India Insight:

When the Ramdev circus rolls into town

By Annie Banerji

Hundreds of devoted volunteers and followers are preparing a tent stretched across an area the size of four football fields, as scores of media personnel throng the site of yoga guru Swami Ramdev’s fast-until-death at New Delhi’s Ramlila Ground.

With several volunteers working day and night making arrangements for Ramdev’s impending indefinite fast to retrieve black money and formulate stringent anti-graft laws, preparations for this grand personal campaign, which is expected to draw several thousand supporters, are in full swing.

From the entrance to the end of the ground, there are volunteers scurrying about with duties ranging from construction of the sprawling waterproof tents to installation of lights and fans. Followers of Ramdev started pouring in to the city from all over the country a week ago.

Factbox – Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular yoga guru

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in the northern Indian town of Haridwar April 8, 2010/Jitendra Prakash)

India’s government suffered a fresh blow in containing growing anger over corruption from million of voters as Swami Ramdev, the country’s most famous yoga guru, gained the support of a leading civil activist for his “fast-until-death” against graft. Anna Hazare lent his support on Thursday for Ramdev’s hunger strike from Saturday to protest against corruption in Asia’s third-largest economy and has called on his legions of followers to join him.

Here are some facts about Ramdev:

YOGA GURU

Ramdev, who successfully brought yoga to the masses through live telecasts, is revered in a country that places great emphasis on spirituality and health. His yoga demonstrations and performances to thousands of followers regularly include postures like a headstand or making his belly dance inside his ribcage, a popular trademark.

Popular Indian guru Swami Ramdev to start hunger strike against corruption

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare during a "fast unto death" campaign in New Delhi April 8, 2011. In the background is an image depicting Mother India/B Mathur)

Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular and powerful yoga guru, rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to call off a hunger strike against corruption, the second major challenge to a government losing its authority due to rampant graft. The charismatic guru, who dons a saffron cloth thrown over his bare torso, runs a $40 million-a-year global yoga and health empire and has millions of followers. Some 30 million viewers tune into his daily yoga TV show.

These followers are expected to rally behind him as he begins on Saturday a “fast-to-the-death” in Delhi until the government agrees to pass a tough anti-corruption “Jan Lokpal” bill and set up a task force for repatriating illegal funds held in foreign bank accounts by Indians.

Egyptian clerics protest at graft in Islamic religious bodies

(Imams shout as they demand that Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Minister Hamdy Zaqzouq maintain an Islamic identity in a post-Mubarak Egypt by making Islam the main source of law in addition to demands to remove the state security apparatus and increase public salaries, in front of the ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS RELIGION))

(Imams protest at the Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011S/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian clerics and employees of state Islamic religious bodies are demanding an end to what they say is rampant corruption by senior officials who manage religious endowments. No official figures exist for the sums donated to Egypt’s top Islamic institutions to help manage and build mosques and pay imams, but independent estimates suggest they run to the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The bodies have been under state control for more than three decades and their reputation among many Egyptians has declined as part of broader discontent at the failings of government. Last month’s popular revolt that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule was the cue for an anti-corruption drive targeting senior officials in the former regime.

Indonesian Islamist PKS party aims for broader support

pksIndonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is holding its second national congress in Jakarta this week where it will discuss key policies.  The Islamist party is the third-biggest in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s coalition, and lifted its share of the vote in the 2009 elections when most Islam-based parties lost support.

The PKS believes religious values should be reflected in social policy to address what it sees as Indonesia’s moral crisis. Its former president, Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, has campaigned hard for tighter Internet controls to ban what he describes as “negative” content on the web, and last year said natural disasters such as earthquakes were linked to immoral television shows.

(Photo: PKS supporters hold pro-Palestinian rally in Jakarta on 20 March 2010/Supri)