Brushing aside government's persuasion, yoga guru Baba Ramdev today began his indefinite hunger strike demanding repatriation of black money stashed away abroad as thousands of followers joined him in the protest here and elsewhere in the country.
After a two-hour yoga practice and 'bhajan' session that started early in the morning, Ramdev began the protest along with thousands of his followers at the Ramlila Maidan where he was joined by Sangh Parivar's firebrand leader Sadhvi Ritambhara and leaders from Sikh, Jain and Muslim communities.
Ramdev announced that the fast will be called off only after all his demands were fulfilled. His demands include promulgation of an ordinance to bring back black money from abroad, enacting a law for capital punishment for corrupt people and confiscation of ill-gotten wealth.
Before launching the fast, Ramdev told his cheering supporters during the yoga session that the protest was intended to save the country from corruption and ensure that the poor get a good life.
"Nothing is impossible, everything is possible and we are not going to be defeated," the saffron-robed Baba seated on an elevated platform on the dais, told the gathering, referring to bringing back of black money stashed in tax havens abroad.
Sources said that backchannel talks were on between the government and Ramdev's side but there were no signs of any scheduled dialogue between the ministers and the yoga guru.
46-year-old Ramdev, who shot into prominence a few years ago with his mass yoga teaching sessions, spurned the government's last-minute overtures to go ahead with the fast.
After five hours of negotiations between two senior ministers Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sayay with Ramdev and his associates, the government had offered to consider declaring illegal wealth as national assets, amend laws to confiscate such ill-gotten wealth and substantially increase the punishment for corrupt people after a committee goes into these issues in six months.
Ramdev arrived at the dais at around 0450 hrs to a huge round of applause from his followers who thronged the protest venue despite sweltering heat.
During the early morning yoga session, Ramdev alleged there was a conspiracy against him to ensure that he does not go ahead with his protest fast but said it had "failed".
"I will certainly not talk about all issues today, there was a conspiracy but it has failed. What was the conspiracy, I will not say today. When the right time comes, I will say," Ramdev said.
"What will India get from this protest? India will be saved now... People will get an opportunity for the first time that in all government professional colleges one can carry on the studies in his mother tongue," he said.
Tens of thousands of Ramdev's followers also went on hunger strike in Mumbai, Jammu and some other cities in solidarity with him.
Devotional and patriotic songs reverberated across the Ramilal Grounds as Ramdev's discourse was laced with humour and demonstration of 'asanas'.
It was virtually a one-man show by Ramdev who continuously addressed the gathering and was followed by Sadhvi Ridambhara who lavished praise on the Baba saying "if there were more Vallabbhai Patels, then there was no need for a sanyasi to sit on satyagraha."
The crowd cheered Ramdev whenever he spoke about bringing back black money, declaring it as a national asset and other issues of corruption. A number of RSS pracharaks in their uniforms were also seen at the site, keenly listening to the discourse.
Ramdev was at his humorous best while making his followers understand that the hunger strike will help them in two ways.
"Hamare mote bhai aur moti baheno ke liye yeh satyagraha health benefits laega aur desh ke liye wealth mil jayega. (While this hunger strike will bring health benefits to obese people, it will also help bring wealth to the nation)," he said.
When a follower gave him a Rs. 11-lakh cheque, the Baba joked, "Take the photos, this is not black money."
A large number of security personnel, including women from Rapid Action Force, were deployed at the protest site to ensure no untoward incident takes place. A manual frisking is also being carried out at the entrance.