India’s Anti-Corruption Activists Renew Pressure on Government

Posted June 8th, 2011 at 5:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Two high-profile anti-corruption activists in India have renewed pressure on the government in New Delhi to deal with graft, widely seen as the country's most pressing problem.

India's wealthiest yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, who is continuing his anti-corruption hunger strike from his base in northern India, warned of violence as he condemned the government crackdown on the protest early Sunday. Ramdev said he will train thousands of his young followers and give them weapons.

Police broke up Ramdev's public hunger strike in New Delhi with batons and tear gas. They whisked the yoga guru 200 kilometers away to Uttarakhand state, saying the number of followers in the capital far exceeded the 5,000-person permit for a yoga camp.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has defended the crackdown, saying it was “unfortunate” that the police action had to be taken, but that there was “no alternative.”

Ramdev's threat is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of an elderly activist, Anna Hazare, who staged his own one-day fast Wednesday at the New Delhi site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated.

Hazare told his followers they have to be successful in the second battle for India's freedom. He warned that if the government does not pass a sweeping anti-corruption bill by mid-August, he will resume his hunger strike.

India's ruling Congress party has been under pressure following a series of corruption scandals.

Flagrant scams in real estate and telecommunications are blamed for robbing billions of dollars from the Indian treasury, while many ordinary Indians say they felt pressured to pay bribes.

Congress party officials accuse Ramdev of being a front man for hardline Hindu nationalist factions and Hazare of using moral blackmail to shortcut the democratic process. Both say they have waited for decades for the government to take action against graft and that only direct public pressure can produce results.