Govt apologises for ‘missing’ Muslim vice-president jibe

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Yoga Day celebrations

NEW DELHI: The central government has apologised to the country’s Muslim vice-president after comments by a senior member of the ruling BJP triggered allegations that sectarianism had tainted a mass event to celebrate World Yoga Day.

The row has taken some of the sheen off the event led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who along with 36,000 people flexed his way into world records on a New Delhi avenue on Sunday at the largest ever session of the ancient Hindu discipline.

In a post on Twitter, Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary who coordinates closely with Modi and top ministers, questioned why the vice president, Hamid Ansari, did not attend the celebrations.

It was later revealed that Ansari had not been invited.

In his post, Madhav also, wrongly, stated that a TV public broadcaster that Ansari heads had not covered the event.

Madhav later deleted the tweet and Modi’s yoga minister said sorry.

“We apologise for that,” yoga minister Shripad Naik told reporters.

“It should have been avoided, it’s a mistake.” Ansari, a veteran diplomat who previously represented India at the United Nations, has often been a target of hardline Hindu nationalists who accuse him of putting his religion before the nation.

Hardliners in Modi’s party believe that India is a Hindu-first nation and mistrust the country’s religious minorities, especially Muslims, who make up about 18% of the population.

Since coming to power a year ago, Modi has at times seen his reform agenda stymied by inflammatory attacks on religious minorities by ministers and members of his party.

“All too often, when it comes to assertions of crude majoritarianism, in the ruling establishment, there is no separating the mainstream from the fringe,” the Indian Express newspaper wrote on Tuesday.

In a bid to make the yoga day event inclusive, the government dropped the “sun salute” from the exercises, since some Muslims say it represents sun worship and is against their faith.

India’s education minister on Monday announced plans to introduce yoga in government schools.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a group representing Muslims, is considering bring a case before the Supreme Court to challenge any decision to make yoga compulsory at school, saying it is a breach of religious freedom.

‘Yoga opponents should go to Pakistan’

NEW DELHI: VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi on Tuesday kicked up another controversy with her remarks that those who are opposed to yoga should go to Pakistan and that they have “no right” to stay in the country. 

The comments came by way of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) response to All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s (AIMPLB) opposition to yoga. 

The Sadhvi also did not spare Vice-President Hamid Ansari, saying the main celebrations in Rajpath here on the occasion of the world’s first International Day of Yoga on Sunday was not the wedding of a politician’s daughter that he needed an “invitation”. 

“They should connect themselves with the traditions of India, culture of India … there is no need for any objection. If they are objecting then they should go to Pakistan. People who are objecting to it have no right to reside in India,” the fiery VHP leader said when asked about AIMPLB’s opposition to Yoga. 

The remarks came days after firebrand BJP MP Yogi Adityanath said that those who are opposed to “surya namaskar” should “drown in the sea” amid protests by Muslim groups over the drill during the Yoga Day celebrations on June 21. 

“They have India’s food and sing songs of Pakistan … Yoga works like a binding factor. It is not related to a single religious belief … democracy does not tell you to object India’s traditions and cultures,” Sadhvi Prachi said. 

The Sadhvi was slammed by the Congress. 

“In a democracy, people have the full right to practice yoga or not,” Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said, as he accused the BJP of forcefully imposing yoga on people. 

The BJP distanced itself from Sadhvi’s comments and said yoga has nothing to do with religion. 

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