NEW DELHI – A popular yoga guru and thousands of his supporters were detained by police for several hours Monday after they tried to march to India's Parliament to intensify an anti-corruption protest and press for a change of government.
As he was led away by police, Baba Ramdev shouted slogans urging his supporters to fight to end India's endemic corruption and seek the repatriation of billions of dollars in illegal money he says Indians have stashed in foreign banks.
Waving Indian flags and shouting slogans, the protesters climbed into police buses parked around the sprawling New Delhi fairground that Ramdev and his supporters had occupied for the past four days.
They were taken to a city stadium, and by evening, were free to leave, said Rajan Bhagat of New Delhi police.
However, Ramdev refused to leave and asked police to provide water and food for thousands of his supporters. He said he would end his five-day-old fast only after that.
Ramdev and his supporters are likely to spend the night at the stadium.
Before the march, the bearded, saffron-clad yogi urged his supporters to throw out the ruling Congress Party and bring in a "clean" government.
"Throw out the Congress; save the country," he shouted as his followers applauded and cheered wildly.
Ramdev had been fasting to demand a robust ombudsman law to keep checks on government, a strong and independent Central Bureau of Investigation and efforts to act against tax evasion and illegal money sent to banks abroad. He had set a Sunday deadline for a response from the government but received none.
"The government has become completely deaf. We have to make them hear us. Now our protest will move from here to the doorstep of the Parliament," Ramdev said.
Although Ramdev has often said he is not aligned with any political party, he was joined Monday by leaders from the main opposition parties.
Nitin Gadkari, president of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, and Sharad Yadav of the socialist party were among those who addressed the crowd, promising their support in the fight against corruption.
Another anti-graft activist, Anna Hazare, ended his latest hunger strike last week after attracting declining crowds at his protest. Hazare and his supporters said they would give up agitating and join politics instead.
Millions of Indians watch Ramdev's daily TV show, and he has used his popularity in recent years to campaign against corruption.
Support for Ramdev's protest has been dwindling though. About 10,000 people were in attendance Monday, less than half the number at the start of the protest.
Critics have accused Ramdev, whose real name is Ramkishan Yadav, of amassing a fortune in donations and not paying taxes. Ramdev denies all allegations of financial wrongdoing.
Before Monday's march, police posted prohibitory orders in central New Delhi banning the assembly of more than five people. Security was tightened all around Parliament, with roads to the iconic building barricaded and armed police and paramilitary soldiers deployed at major crossroads.