It was the efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that 21 June has been recognized as International Yoga Day by United Nations General Assembly. As a result of continuous efforts of our Prime minister to get the Yoga recognized at international level, 21st June was declared as International Yoga day last year. The resolution for it was led by India at the United Nations General Assembly. That came three months less than Prime Minister NarendraModi proposed the idea. The zeal for the Yoga at the international level can be assessed by the fact that it was for the first time that a resolution has been accepted at General Assembly in less than three months.
But it is ironical that at a time when yoga is increasingly being recognized around the world as an efficacious discipline that aids physical and mental well-being, the ancient Indian system is caught in an unnecessary controversy, mainly due to its aggressive promotion by the Narendra Modi government. It is difficult to elude the impression that the government is showing too much zeal as well as a tendency to use its employees and institutions to propagate its own view of culture and tradition. Mobilizing staff members and students seems to be this regime’s way of promoting an idea.
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If it was Good Governance Day last Christmas, it will be International Yoga Day on June 21. It is indeed true that Prime Minister Modi’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014 provided the platform for the international community to recognize the importance of yoga. In December, the UNGA passed a resolution with the backing of over 170 countries to designate June 21 as International Yoga Day. No doubt, the benefits of yoga ought to be widely disseminated. However, does promoting it require the mobilisation of tens of thousands of people at Rajpath in Delhi for a massive demonstration? Of course not! This shows the excessive zeal of Narendra Modi government towards propagating Yoga and it may not be wrong to say that it is indirectly related with the Hindutva ideology of NDA government. There are apprehensions that employees and students would be asked to participate in related events on a Sunday, even though it has not been made mandatory.
The government is even aiming for an entry in the Guinness World Records for the single largest yoga demonstration. It appears that having international impact is a key objective behind the promotional activities. If yoga is all about health, peace and harmony, there really is no need for a demonstrative approach to it. The visible presence of the state in the promotion of yoga will only detract from the idea of making it a people’s movement. Rather, the government’s role should be confined to providing facilities for the practice of yoga in various institutions under it and disseminating information about its benefits.
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A related issue that has given a sectarian dimension to the yoga campaign concerns a perception that the practice of yoga, especially the suryanamaskar part of it, is against the tenets of Islam. Recognising this, the government has dropped suryanamaskar from the list of asanas to be performed on June 21. While it is true that yoga is part of a wider heritage and attracts practitioners from among adherents of various religions, the government is obviously unable to convince everyone that its programmes are free of all religious or cultural association. It should work to remove its initiatives from areas of contestation so that even programmes having universal value do not take the hue of its ideology.