Fasting guru denies he's arming followers in India

June 9, 2011 - 7:57 AM
APTOPIX India Corruption

Indian spiritual guru Baba Ramdev, center, talks to his associates during a public session at his ashram in Haridwar, India, Thursday, June 9, 2011. Ramdev, who began a hunger strike against corruption Saturday, and thousands of his followers were forced from a New Delhi park in a Sunday raid that injured dozens and sparked even more public outrage. He resumed his protest Monday from his ashram and said he was arming thousands of supporters to block any police action to disrupt the fast. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

NEW DELHI (AP) — A charismatic yoga guru has pledged to train his followers in self defense and traditional martial arts but said they would never take up arms in fighting India's endemic corruption.

Baba Ramdev, a television celebrity watched by millions of viewers, was on the sixth day of a hunger strike Thursday to demand the return of billions of dollars stashed abroad illegally in tax havens by companies and wealthy Indians.

A police raid forced Ramdev and thousands of his followers from a New Delhi park Sunday, injuring dozens and sparking enormous public outrage.

Ramdev temporarily avoided police by disguising himself in women's clothing and resumed his protest Monday from his spiritual retreat in Haridwar on the banks of the Ganges river. Government doctors examined him Thursday and said he had lost weight and was dehydrated but his overall health was stable.

News reports Wednesday said the guru was planning to arm thousands of supporters to block any new police action to disrupt the fast, but his office quickly denied it and said he had been quoted out of context.

"We neither support nor intend to take the law in our hand. We don't mean either training of guns, bombs or practice of killing someone or being violent at any point of time," a statement said Thursday.

The statement added that the guru only meant that he would train his followers in traditional martial arts to defend themselves better.

Officials said they were forced to break up Ramdev's weekend protest after tens of thousands showed up at a sprawling New Delhi fairground though only 5,000 had been approved. Police also said the event, billed as a mass yoga session, had taken on a combative tone with "provocative" speeches.

The protest campaign is part of a public push to demand government accountability after a series of corruption scandals such as improper telecoms licensing, illegal land acquisitions and irregularities in staging last year's Commonwealth Games.

A recent report by Global Financial Integrity suggested at least $464 billion had disappeared overseas since Indian independence in 1947. The illegal flow of cash has swelled to an average of $16 billion a year as the economy has grown in recent years.