Unlike the trickle when Anna Hazare began his hungerstrike two weeks ago, Baba Ramdev has pulled thousands of people on the first day of his fast at the Ramlila Ground here.
He is back after 14 months; in June last year, the yoga teacher was bundled out of the same ground in a midnight police swoop that turned violent.
It is unclear yet whether his protest this time is against black money only. The agenda is expected to be known when he addresses the gathering this morning. About a 100 of the yoga teacher's supporters are expected to sit on a relay hungerstrike till August 30. Baba Ramdev will be in and out of Delhi. Whether he will be on an indefinite hungerstrike or then join the relay fast is also not clear yet. Baba Ramdev has only said so far, "I am a saint I don't have much needs, we eat very less and from today that will stop too."
The yoga icon visited Rajghat and spent a few minutes meditating there before reaching the Ramlila Ground, hands raised in the air to greet the 15,000 people already gathered. They had begun arriving early in the morning, hours before the yoga guru's protest was to begin.
The crowd is largely rural and many people have arrived with bags of clothes and other daily necessities as they prepare to set up camp here for a few days. Indian flags are being waved, there are big Ramdev posters all over the ground. Religious songs are being sung on stage and the Ramlila Ground wears a festive air already. The yoga guru has cannily planned his protest to coincide with an extended weekend that includes the Janamashtmi festival tomorrow; and then there is Independence Day on Wednesday next, August 15.
The police say they are geared for about 30,000 people. They have heavy security in place with four companies stationed and alert to any trouble.
Baba Ramdev's last outing at the Ramlila Ground, in June last year, saw a midnight police crackdown with authorities claiming that he violated norms agreed upon. The Delhi administration accused Baba Ramdev of garbing his protest as a yoga camp and of having had permission for a gathering of far fewer people than eventually turned up. He was caught by the police while trying to flee the venue in a woman's salwar kameez. The baba's disciples clashed with the police and one person, a woman named Rajbala died. The yoga guru was escorted out of Delhi and back to his camp in Haridwar where he accused the government of betraying him and suppressing his peaceful protests.
In February this year, the Supreme Court sternly pulled up the government and Delhi Police for the midnight crackdown, saying the incident could have been avoided by more patient handling by the state. The court has also found Baba Ramdev guilty of negligence.
This time the Baba Ramdev protest is better organized. He has permission to protest at the Ramlila Maidan till August 30. The police say 30,000 people are allowed to gather at a time.
The yoga icon has also indicated that he could expand his protest agenda this time. Along with his core demand that black money stashed in foreign banks be brought back, Baba Ramdev might also add his voice to the demand for the anti-graft legislation - the Lokpal Bill - a cause championed by Anna Hazare and his aides. Anna Hazare announced on Monday that he was dissolving his Team Anna. It is not known yet whether Anna Hazare will share stage with Baba Ramdev at the latter's protest, though he promised earlier to join him. A close Anna aide said that Anna had no plans to visit Delhi right now.
While Team Anna has announced that they will not enter the political process, Baba Ramdev has said that he has no political agenda. "All we are demanding is constitution of a strong Lokpal to end corruption. Lokpal alone cannot eradicate corruption but it is required to punish the corrupt," Baba Ramdev said.