(Wall Street Journal) Followers of yoga guru Baba Ramdev thronged to New Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds in large numbers to campaign against graft, Friday.The 47-year-old spiritual leader is demanding a probe into black money allegedly stashed by Indian politicians in foreign banks. Ramdev, who began protesting in New Delhi on Thursday, estimates this amount to be close to 40 trillion rupees.
Some of the participants appeared to care about corruption, with an elderly man carrying a placard detailing scams dating back to the modern country’s founding in 1947. Since then, the man, who claimed he graduated from the Indian Institution of Technology in Mumbai, said India has lost 910 trillion rupees through various scams.Another supporter, who said he had served in the Indian army, was dressed up as Ravana, the ten-headed Hindu demon god, to symbolize the “dark face” of the “corrupt” Indian administration.But many others appeared to have turned up at Delhi’s Ramlila parade grounds mainly to chat, smoke, read or even sleep under tents pitched on the grounds. Some, who had traveled far distances to attend the protest, were not even aware what the protest was about.Babasaheb Annasaheb Jadav, a Hindu priest from a small village in Maharashtra, for instance, said he believed “the poor will become overnight millionaires” if Ramdev’s campaign is a success.“All taxes would be abolished, farmer suicides would stop and food would be free of cost,”the 55-year-old, currently fasting as a sign of protest, told us when we visited the rally. A few others, including 28-year-old Jaya Gaur, believes that the yoga guru is“pressuring the government to donate to poor households.”Ms. Gaur, a nurse at a local hospital in the northern Indian town of Sitapur, said that“the problems of the common man” including access to electricity, clean drinking water and price rises, will all come to an end” once the government gives in to Mr. Ramdev’s demands.A group of Hindu holy men clad in saffron robes said they were attending the protest only because it was organized by a fellow spiritual leader.“Ramdev has devoted his life to selfless service. Whatever he is protesting against must be for the greater good of the country,” said one of the Hindu priests, who refused to disclose his name.Several critics of Mr. Ramdev say he’s taking a populist line, without any real strategy to attack graft, in a bid to build his own powerbase. Some even argue that the yoga guru is politically ambitious and a so-called anti-corruption movement would only swell his electoral base.A recent report in the Sunday Guardian went as far to allege that Ramdev’s rally was staged and protesters had been paid close to 500 Indian rupees by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh party to participate in New Delhi’s three-day rally.Ramdev has, however, has denied these allegations.“We have no political ambitions. We have no political mission or agenda. Our only mission is to save the country by bringing back black money,”he told reporters earlier this month.