Yoga guru Baba Ramdev and his supporters, who began a march towards Parliament from their camp at Ramlila Maidan at about 1 this afternoon, have been stopped at the Ranjit Singh Flyover, half a kilometer away from the grounds. The yoga guru has been on a hunger strike against corruption and black money for five days.
Baba Ramdev is yet to reach the Ranjit Singh Flyover, but the procession has stopped with some supporters that have reached the flyover being put in buses standing by to take them to the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Bawana, North West Delhi, that will double up as a makeshift jail. The Delhi Transport Corporation buses doubled as barricades to stop the thousands marching towards Parliament.
Baba Ramdev did not march. He is standing atop a vehicle that moved slowly to keep pace with his supporters who are on foot. Like many of his supporters, the yoga guru is wearing a black band on his forehead and is addressing his supporters.
The yoga guru does not have permission for the march - he was only permitted to sit in protest at the Ramlila Ground. There is huge police deployment. About 1300 policemen, including the Rapid Action Force, have spread out in the area. Baba Ramdev had declared that he would end his fast in jail.
Baba Ramdev began his protest camp against corruption in Delhi five days ago by declaring that he would not target any political party or personality. Hours before his camp is expected to wind up, the movement was drenched in political colours, largely because of the star turn provided by leaders Sharad Yadav and Nitin Gadkari, who head major opposition parties.
"You don't worry, guruji....all members of the NDA are with you," said Mr Gadkari, referring to the national coalition that is led by his party, the BJP, and in which Mr Yadav's Janata Dal (United) is a senior partner. Mr Gadkari delivered a lengthy speech to a crowd of nearly 6000 people, predictably enumerating the various fronts on which the Congress-led government has failed the country.
"We are a rich country with a poor population," Mr Gadkari said from a massive stage. "If black money is recovered, we can help the poor."
In Parliament, just a few kilometres away, the BJP forced the Lok Sabha to adjourn after it noisily protested that the government is not doing enough to crack down on black money.
Politicians including Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati commented on the exigent need to combat black money - both politicians have faced court cases for corruption and assets that appear disproportionate to their income. Undeclared and untaxed income resting in foreign bank accounts has been the big focus of Baba Ramdev's movement which launched last year at the same venue. At the time, he galvanised huge crowds and considerable momentum.
Aware of his influence over millions of Indians, largely because of his popular televised yoga classes, the government had extensive negotiations with the guru. They ended abruptly when the yoga icon refused to end his hunger strike. The police swept into Ramlila Maidan at midnight, and the camp was disbanded with a lathi-charge, injuring many among the nearly 30,000 people. The Supreme Court later held the police and Baba Ramdev culpable for risking the safety of ordinary citizens.
This time around, the government has ignored Baba Ramdev, emboldened partially by the somewhat lethargic response among the public to his call for action. Left out in the cold, the guru decided to up the ante by calling yesterday for a revolution that would end in jail. Today, he said, he would lead a peaceful march to Parliament.
"We are not terrorists. We never wanted to take this step to go and protest outside Parliament; however it is the government's apathy which has forced us. We will follow the principles of non-violence and expect the police also not to use force against us," Baba Ramdev said this morning.
The yoga teacher targeted the Congress yesterday, asking people to vote out parties which did not support his demands on black money and corruption.
(With Agency Inputs)