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.
“There will be over 1 crore (10 million) people who will fast,” Ramdev told reporters at Delhi’s airport after holding talks with four government ministers, rushed there by the prime minister to urge him to call off his fast. “We want to get rid of corruption and injustices happening in institutions and we want to make things fair (in India).”
Singh has struggled to shake off a series of corruption scandals that have embroiled senior officials, including a $39 billion telecoms spectrum scam, the biggest in India’s history. There is widespread public anger over the graft scams, which have also hurt foreign investment and helped delay a series of reforms aimed at opening up Asia’s third-largest economy.