Controversial yoga channel guru challenges India on corruption

2011-06-03 07:34

New Delhi – India’s most famous yoga guru put pressure on India’s government today to accept his hard-line proposals to combat corruption as he prepared to go on a hunger strike at the weekend.

Swami Ramdev, who has erected a huge tent in the capital where he plans to fast in front of thousands of followers from tomorrow, has vowed to stop eating unless Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accedes to all of his demands.

Singh sent four ministers to greet the television star when he arrived in the capital on Wednesday and he has personally written to the man known to millions as “Baba” in an effort to avert another challenge to his authority.

The standoff is front-page news, with The Indian Express headlining “To Prevent the Fast, Government Works Hard on Baba Menu”, adding that ministers were preparing a last-ditch response to Ramdev’s “bewildering” demands.

Anger about corruption has been at fever pitch in India for the last year after a series of scandals involving the government and the ruling Congress party, notably a $39 billion (R262 billion) telecoms scam that saw a minister arrested.

Ramdev, a social conservative always seen in saffron robes open at the chest, has tapped this groundswell of discontent to launch his campaign, but he also has strong political ties with right-wing Hindu groups and a large organisation behind him.

His main request is that Singh’s administration forcibly repatriate so-called “black money”, cash in foreign bank accounts suspected of being used to pay bribes or other illegal transactions.

“When the black money is brought back, our economy will be so huge, our currency will be so strong that our one rupee will be equal to $50,” he said in an interview earlier this week with The Indian Express.

His other proposals to combat graft include introducing the death penalty for corrupt officials and withdrawing large-denomination 500 rupee (R67) and 1 000 rupee bank notes, which he says are used for illicit transactions.

He has also called for any bank that operates in a tax haven to be banned from India.

The bearded guru is anti-gay, against modern medicine and claims to be able to cure cancer and Aids through yoga and his natural therapies, which are a key source of his income.

His trust, based in the northern Indian hilltown of Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas, has declared revenue since 1995 of 11 billion rupees (R1.6 billion).

Ramdev, known to millions of middle-class Indians through his yoga channel that promotes healthy living and breathing exercises, yesterday held more talks with the government, but was adamant he would not compromise.

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