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.

"Our country has so much potential, but we are all spiritually and morally lost. The key is to reach to the bottom rungs of society, to provide the rural population basic amenities and education of international standards. Swami Ramdev is our platform to improvement," said Shailesh Nage, one of the organisers of the event.

24-hour water supply has been provided to ensure the efficient functioning of 600 toilet facilities and the 500 faucets which will provide filtered and purified water, for drinking and bathing. The open-air kitchen, which is supposed to serve thousands during this nine-day campaign starting June 4, is divided by a rivulet of muddy water -- vegetables are chopped and utensils are washed on one side and food is prepared on the other.

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.