Exercising Hindutva through Yoga

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Like everywhere in India, Kashmir too observed International Yoga Day – albeit not with the same fanfare   it was celebrated in the mainland.  This is the second year in a row that the event is being held.  Last year, the Modi government rallied the United Nations to declare June 21 as International Yoga Day.   And Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the day by leading a mammoth Yoga session in New Delhi. This year, he again led from the front. He addressed at least 30,000 people at Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex  before joining the mass demonstration. The PM performed yoga ‘asanas’ along with the people at the event.  The 30,000 people sitting on pink and blue coloured mats during the event followed Modi’s selection of asanas. On Modi’s call, the day was observed across the world with mass demonstrations also being organized in Times Square and London. 

But despite the apparent innocuousness of the day, it isn’t now one. Not because Yoga per se is not right – stripped down to its essentials Yoga is an exercise and thus good for health. It is that this ancient discipline is being used as a medium by the BJP to carry through a subtle ideological message. The Sangh Parivar has sought to project it as a Hindu cultural and religious practice. The attempt is to associate a deep religious symbolism with the discipline. For example, it is being emphasised that on June 21, Lord Shiva became Adiyogi, or the first yogi.  And these associations from the Hindu tradition turn Yoga into a Hindu practice, which make it difficult from the people from other religious traditions to follow it. But then the government gives people little choice. They are asked to observe the day irrespective of which religion they belong to. The entire state machinery is pressed into action to organize a grand celebration, with PM overseeing the arrangements. Any bureaucrat can defy at his own peril. So much so, even in Muslim majority J&K, the government has no choice but to observe the day. The state’s department of AYUSH was at the forefront of the celebrations. A function was organized  at the Indoor Stadium, with many bureaucrats performing ‘asanas’. 

The question is why a government should privilege certain discipline, imbue it with religious symbolism and then impose it on its people. More so, in a country as diverse as India with a substantial Muslim population along with many other minorities. And why is it only that a majoritarian  practice or cultural ethic has to be followed by all. And why can’t it be that some minority practice is also promoted by the state? Why can’t there be a one-day symbolic fast for everybody in deference to the Muslim religious sensitivities? After all, fasting is also good for health. 

But this can never happen. Because BJP espouses a majoritarian vision of India where minorities would keep their place in the society at the pleasure of majority. Unlike Indian brand of secularism which has its own serious flaws, the majoritarianism sanctions a hierarchical community relationship, with minorities formally subservient to the majority. PM Modi embodies this political outlook and he has become a toast of a vast section of India’s population for this. And this is what should be most troubling for the minorities in India, most specifically the Muslims, the hate for whom undergirds the BJP politics.

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