The zeal for yoga

It is ironical that at a time when yoga is increasingly being recognised around the world as an efficacious discipline that aids physical and mental well-being, the ancient Indian system is caught in a needless controversy, mainly due to its aggressive promotion by the Narendra Modi government. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the government is showing excessive zeal as well as a tendency to use its employees and institutions to propagate its own view of culture and tradition. Mobilising staff members and students seems to be this regime’s way of promoting an idea. 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 recognise 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? 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. A related issue that has given a sectarian dimension to the yoga campaign concerns a perception that the practice of yoga, especially the surya namaskar part of it, is against the tenets of Islam. Recognising this, the government has dropped surya namaskar 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. –The Hindu

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