|Baba Ramdev is hunger striking against goverment corruption, but is criticised for artificial support [AFP]
Baba Ramdev, India's most celebrated yoga guru, has begun a "fast unto death" in an effort to raise awareness against rampant corruption in the country.
The guru began his indefinite fast in New Delhi early on Saturday, joined by thousands of his supporters.
Ramdev pressed ahead with his much-publicised fast after several federal ministers dispatched by prime minister Manmohan Singh failed to persuade him to call off his protest.
Senior minister Kapil Sibal, who led the talks with the guru, said on Friday that the government "had a constructive dialogue on the issues. We are very happy with the progress".
But he added that "we cannot expect that these issues can be resolved today because they have long-term implications".
Before launching the fast, Ramdev held a yoga and prayer session during which he told the gathering that his protest was intended to "save the country from corruption and ensure that the poor get a good life".
He wants the government to bring back "unaccounted wealth" that the corrupt have allegedly stashed away in foreign banks.
The government fears the protest, by the guru whose televised yoga lessons reach 30 million viewers and whose empire is worth $40m, could fuel voter anger.
Public outrage at corruption has been mounting over the scandals involving the government, notably a $39bn telecom scandal that has seen one minister arrested.
"The corrupt politicians" have gained vast sums "from the people's hard earned money," Ramdev said.
"Corrupt people have no religion. All corrupt ministers should be given the death sentence."
Ramdev is describing his fast as "a satyagraha against corruption".
Satyagraha is the philosophy of disciplined non-violence used to affect social change, engaged by Mahatma Gandhi during India's freedom struggle. It was later practiced by Martin Luther King.
But Baba Ramdev himself is a controversial figure for some.
New Delhi activist and lawyer Nandita Rao told Al Jazeera that she had strong suspicions of corruption on the part of Ramdev, and demanded that he disclose his funding sources
"The rumour going around is that many of the people [who have joined him] have been paid to come over there," she said, adding that this is not a "spontaneous uprising of the common people".
"He's being backed by very dangerous right wing forces who have been involved in terrorist activities," she said.
Ramdev's fast comes a few weeks after a social activist, Anna Hazare, went on a hunger strike against corruption. Hazare's fast galvanised the Indian middle class and put the federal government under pressure.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies