Putting yoga on the international map has been something of a passion with long time practitioner of the art, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So June 21, which will be observed as the first-ever International Yoga Day, will see the Centre pulling out all the stops to make it memorable. While Modi will address a 35,000-strong gathering at Rajpath performing yoga, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will lead the events at the UN headquarters. In addition to this, 1.1 million NCC cadets and 1.3 million army personnel will observe the day.
On the face of it this should not be a problem — after all, yoga is beneficial for the mind and body. However, the manner in which yoga has become a political flashpoint forces one to ask: Would this have become a controversy if any other party other than the BJP had promoted it?
The BJP has been trying to disassociate itself from any charge of religious partisanship — especially under Modi’s leadership. It should be remembered the focus of Modi’s election campaign was development and while Opposition parties tried to box in then Gujarat chief minister into a communal corner, Modi effectively deflected these attempts.
So has the BJP stayed true to its promise of development? The Centre seems to be making the right noises about boosting investor confidence, but the markets don’t reflect that enthusiasm. Contrary to expectations, is the BJP going soft on Hindutva? The party would like us to believe that this is not the case, but the pronouncements from those within its ranks often paint a different picture.
The ghar wapsi programme is one such ill-conceived move by those professing proximity to the Centre. The government acted to check this but by then considerable damage, to the minority communities and also to the party, had been done. Ghar wapsi is, to date, the most visible sign of the BJP government being reluctant to go all out against the Hindutva forces.
After this, there have been subtle efforts to push a soft version of Hindutva — Hindutva lite, which is a watered-down version of a monolithic interpretation of the idea of India. Not taking into consideration how its decisions affect sections of the population, the BJP has enforced policies that have adverse, long-term impacts.
In Maharashtra, anyone found selling or in possession of beef can be jailed for up to five years. In Madhya Pradesh, anganwadis will no longer provide eggs as the chief minister is a “strict vegetarian”. In Karnataka, extra funds to buy eggs, which are part of the anganwadi menu, are often not released. School textbooks in Gujarat explain how stem cell research and televisions were there in ancient India. These policies appear independent of each other but when put together a pattern appears — one that wants to homogenise the different cultures, traditions and people of India.
It is this trend that has made sections of society apprehensive of Modi’s push to popularise yoga. Yoga today is an international phenomenon and New Delhi’s focus on it is an attempt to push India’s soft power on a global stage. It is a good strategy. But with leaders like Yogi Adityanath, who suggest that those unwilling to perform the Surya Namaskar should drown in the sea or be locked up in a dark cell, all the gains that it makes will be of little use.