NEW DELHI (AP) — A popular yoga guru ended his hunger strike to protest endemic corruption in India after six days on Tuesday, and said he was turning his attention to campaigning against the ruling party in general elections scheduled for 2014.
Baba Ramdev sipped a glass of fruit juice offered by supporters to end the fast, aimed at pressuring the government to bring back billions of dollars of illegal money allegedly stashed by Indians in foreign banks.
On Tuesday, more than 2,000 supporters at a stadium in the heart of New Delhi cheered as Ramdev announced that the fight against corruption would go on.
Ramdev, who has previously insisted that he did not have a political agenda, announced that his strategy now is to oust the ruling Congress party in the next general election scheduled for 2014. He accuses the Congress party, which has been in power since 2004, of corruption and not doing enough to bring back bribe money stashed overseas.
"There should be no ambivalence in our strategy which is to defeat the Congress. My slogan to you today is: boycott the Congress party and ensure its defeat in the next elections," he told supporters.
Ramdev's speech was interrupted several times by his supporters who loudly shouted the slogan coined by their guru: "Remove the Congress, Save the country."
The Congress party has denied Ramdev's charges and dismissed his protest as a political stunt.
Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari said no other administration has done as much as the Congress-led government to help bring back to India money funneled out of the country.
"No other government has taken the kind of firm steps to bring back black money as compared to the work and commitment shown by our government on this issue in the last three years," Tewari told reporters Tuesday.
The main opposition parties — including the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — several socialist and regional parties have offered support to Ramdev, with several political leaders sitting with the guru for short spells over the past six days.
Ramdev's protest comes nearly two weeks after the latest hunger strike by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare failed to attract the huge crowds that had turned out for his past protests. Hazare and his supporters said they would give up agitating and join politics instead.
Fed up with the country's entrenched corruption, thousands of poor people, mostly farmers from nearby states, joined Ramdev during his protest for six days. But support for the guru has dwindled in recent months as he too has come under a cloud over alleged tax evasion.
Government agencies have questioned the source of Ramdev's vast fortune and accused him of not paying taxes. A close aide is in jail on charges of cheating and forgery.
On Monday, Ramdev gave up a plan to march to Parliament after police denied him permission to hold the rally. He and his supporters then moved to the stadium where they camped overnight.
They were ordered by police early Tuesday to vacate the stadium. A spokesman said Ramdev would return to his ashram in the holy city of Haridwar in north India later Tuesday.