India's soft power? Cultural nationalism? Or Hindutva push? The many views on Yoga Day

  • Agencies, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 22, 2015 18:22 IST

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has said the United Nation's decision to commemorate the International Day of Yoga underlines an appreciation for India and its growing soft power.

The way the event was celebrated around the globe showed "the world had made the first International Day of Yoga its own", Swaraj said at the Hindu Temple Society of North America on Sunday.

June 21 was declared the International Day of Yoga by the UN last December after Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the idea during his first address to the world body’s General Assembly three months earlier.

The proposal was co-sponsored by 177 of the 193 members of the UN, creating a record for the highest number of co-sponsoring countries for an General Assembly resolution of such nature.

Modi personally led nearly 36,000 people in performing asanas at Delhi’s Rajpath, an event that set two new world records.

Read: Sitaram Yechury says yoga is 'dog's body movement', Twitter users lash out

While yoga is one of India's most important gifts to the world, the UN's decision to celebrate the day is an appreciation of India’s soft power, Swaraj said.

The colour of the skin, religious or political affiliation and nationality did not matter for hundreds of thousands who performed yoga, she said. "They were all united by the awareness of the power of yoga," she added.

Swaraj cited the benefits of yoga in treating asthma, diabetes, drug addiction and heart disease. “Yoga is about self discovery and self acceptance," she said.

Though BJP leaders have reiterated yoga does not belong to any religion and nation, there has been a raging debate on Yoga Day.

In India, some Muslims groups opposed the event – the 'surya namskar’, a set of 12 asanas that is a salutation to the sun, had to be dropped altogether – and many Christian religious leaders objected to the celebrations being held on a Sunday.

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said the event was only aimed at burnishing Modi’s image. He tweeted on Sunday: “I wish International Yoga Day to all. But this Tamasha of Community Yoga is utter waste of public money and is only image building for Modi.”


How India bent it right with PM Modi and his ministers on Yoga Day

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, another senior leader of the Congress, said the controversy had erupted because it was linked with the Prime Minister’s politics.

"Yoga is universally accepted, but unfortunately mired in controversy because it has been inextricably linked up with Modi politics," Gogoi tweeted.

In a series of tweets, he said yoga, like “all other forms of physical exercises", is good for health.

"However, my priority is providing nutritious food, medical care, housing, sanitation, drinking water and employment opportunities," Gogoi said.

Attacking the NDA government, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the mass mobilisation by the BJP-led government to celebrate Yoga Day was an attempt to promote a Hindutva agenda at the cost of India's secular and democratic fabric.

Claiming that yoga was misused through a mega marketing exercise, the Rajya Sabha MP said holding such large sessions was an attempt to propel the Hindutva agenda in a country known for its diversity.

"Such mass mobilisation for yoga sessions is a tactic similar to that adopted by dictators in the past. Through such exercise, attention is diverted from basic issues confronting people," Yechury said at an event in Bhubaneswar marking the birth anniversary of Communist ideologue Harkishan Singh Surjeet.

Read: India sets two Guinness records with yoga event at Delhi's Rajpath

Yechury said all public gatherings at Delhi's Rajpath had been banned since the demolition of the Babri masjid but the mega yoga session was held on Sunday.

Yechury also courted controversy when he cited the example of a dog and said that when the animal gets up, it stretches its front and rear legs and takes a deep breath. "All yoga exercises can be noticed in dog's body movement," he said.

On Yoga Day, BJP patriarch LK Advani highlighted the cultural nationalism invoked by the BJP in the late 1980s, which catapulted the party from two to 86 seats in Parliament, and said it had started gaining ground and its impact is clearly visible.

Speaking at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, Advani recalled how the BJP national executive at its meeting in 1989 passed a resolution in favour of the Ram temple at Ayodhya and sticking to cultural nationalism.

The former deputy prime minister said the situation has taken "a turn and today Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading a BJP majority government at the Centre".

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