The rendra Modi government, enthused by the worldwide response to the first Intertiol Yoga Day (IYD) on June 21 last year, is pulling out all stops to make it an even grander success this year. Over one lakh events are being organized across the country, including regiol-level mega events and broad participation by universities and thousands of colleges and schools. Yoga runs and camps, workshops and semirs, mass yoga and meditation exercises have been held in the run up to the second IYD. The NCERT has pitched in with a tiol Yoga Olympiad showcasing yogic asas performed by students from different states. The Prime Minister on Tuesday will lead the main programme at Chandigarh, Home minister Rajth Singh at Lucknow, Fince minister Arun Jaitley at Mumbai and over 50 cabinet ministers at other places. HRD minister Smriti Irani has exhorted parents and teachers to spend time with children practising yoga ‘as it improves motor skills and hand-eye coordition’. Though the Department of Personnel and Training has clarified that participation in IYD programmes is not mandatory for 50 lakh Central government employees, surely they will be on toes with high-profile ministers and political leaders fanning across the country.
All this government-supported bandobast has predictably ruffled Opposition feathers. JD(U) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has dared Prime Minister Modi to ban alcohol in BJP-ruled states ‘as those addicted to alcohol cannot perform yoga which requires concentration’. Declaring that prohibition will be a poll plank for his party in Uttar Pradesh — after having enforced it in Bihar — Nitish Kumar also took a swipe at BJP president Amit Shah that ‘his body shows that he does not practice yoga’. Not to be outdone, the Congress has criticized ‘wastage of public money on luxurious yoga exercises’ when the country is faced with pressing problems aplenty. The BJP has hit back, with Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas qvi decrying those indulging in ‘politics of health’ as ‘politically bankrupt and therefore in need of yoga’. But more than political one-upmanship, it is the underlying clash of two concepts of India that is imparting a jagged edge to celebrating yoga. The Congress and other left-of-centre parties have long espoused the Nehruvian concept of India as a ‘culturally neutral’ tion based on progressive ideals of ‘socialism and secularism’. The unsaid premise is that yoga is identified with Hindu majoritarianism, that its aggressive propagation will end up creating unease among the minorities.
The left-of-centre forces fear that the Sangh Parivar, with long-term political aim, is pushing its recrudescent agenda through popularizing the spiritual traditions of ‘Bharat’. The thinly veiled insinuation is that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre scored a major public relations victory at the intertiol stage when the UN General Assembly in December 2014 declared June 21 to be celebrated as the Intertiol Day of Yoga. However, it needs be remembered that this proposal was supported by over 190 countries, including 40 Islamic tions. This year, week-long yoga programmes are being held across the world from US to Australia, from South Africa to Chi. If the rest of the world views yoga India’s gift that brings about healthy living, promotes balance and harmony and is relevant in an age craving global peace and well-being — how do some Indians quarrel with it? Instead, yoga should be taken as much to heart as Tai Chi of Chi, the martial arts philosophies of Japan and several other Asian countries, and the sports tradition in Australia and many European countries. People need to live healthy and active lives as long as they can. If politics is getting in the way of something as basic as this need, it is high time to change mindsets.