NEW DELHI (AFP) - A television yoga guru who has led protests against corruption in India threatened to form a militia on Wednesday as a new demonstration against the government drew thousands in New Delhi.
Yoga star Swami Ramdev, who was evicted from the capital along with thousands of followers at the weekend in a police crackdown, warned of violence if he was targeted again.
The activist, who is watched by millions of Indians every day on a religious television channel, called for men and women to join his "army".
"They must be dedicated, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice," he said from his base in northern India in remarks reported by the NDTV news channel. "They will be given arms training. We will build an army of 11,000 men and women."
His spokesman told AFP that the force would have weapons but would act only in self-defence. He said that Ramdev was determined to stand up to police if they again attacked him or his supporters.
Anti-corruption campaigns have tapped into widespread anger in India but Ramdev's comments were seen as likely to alienate many of his mainstream supporters.
The government slammed the speech, with Home Minister P. Chidambaram telling reporters Ramdev had "exposed his true colours and true intentions."
"Let him do so, and the law will take its course," he added.
In Delhi, crowds gathered at the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi, considered the father of the Indian nation, to join a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with Ramdev.
Led by Anna Hazare, a 73-year-old activist who observed a 98-hour hunger strike against corruption in April, several thousand people made their way through tight security to join the demonstration.
"We will have to make sacrifices. We will be humiliated also. But we will have to bear all this and take it in our stride," Hazare, wearing his trademark white cotton clothes, told the crowd.
Hazare, who has a large public following after years of campaigning against corruption, successfully forced the government in April to allow activists to help draft a new anti-graft law.
"I am here to support Anna. I was shocked by the way the police misbehaved with innocent protesters during Baba Ramdev's demonstration," Rolly Mishra, a 25-year-old software engineer who had taken the day off work, told AFP.
"In a democracy, everyone has a right to stand up for a cause and no government can stop us from doing so."
Corruption has leapt up the agenda in fast-developing India after a series of scandals, notably a telecom licence scam that might have cost the country up to $39 billion.
The government has promised to tackle the issue, and in its latest move on Wednesday said it would set up of a panel to improve tracing of tax defaulters.
"In the current wave of transparency and anti-corruption drive, there is a demand to put the list of chronic defaulters in the public domain," the finance ministry said in a statement.
Ramdev's protest has continued to raise political temperatures in India, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh facing criticism over how the guru was handled by police when he was ejected from Delhi on Sunday.
Sushma Swaraj, a senior leader of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), met Ramdev at his ashram near Haridwar on Wednesday to show public support.
"The government has lost its balance. They have committed a crime by beating up the protesters," she told reporters.
Ramdev remained on hunger strike for the third day, despite doctors advising him to resume eating.
When he first announced he would start a strike, ministers attempted to appease him before switching tactics and ordering the police crackdown in Delhi that left more than 70 injured, including two seriously.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, a veteran cabinet member with a reputation for probity, said the recent corruption scandals showed that Indian public officials needed to enter a new era of transparency.
"The walls of secrecy are crumbling in every field gradually including politics, business, administration and judiciary and once the trend has started, you can't stop it midway," he told reporters.One of India's most popular authors, Chetan Bhagat, orchestrated an online campaign against the government, calling on his followers on Twitter to observe a one-day fast in solidarity with Hazare and Ramdev.