India to Project ‘Soft Power’ on Yoga Day

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev (left) rehearsing with Mufti Shamoon Qasmi, general secretary of an organisation of imams

June 21 will be celebrated worldwide as International Day of Yoga, the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to highlight yoga as India's signature cultural export.

An regular practitioner of the discipline himself, Modi set up a new ministry for yoga last year and persuaded the United Nations to celebrate this day internationally.

"After the number zero this is India's biggest contribution to society," joint secretary Anil Ganeriwala told Reuters. "It is a symbol of our cultural richness."

On Sunday around 45,000 people are expected to join the prime minister in a yoga class conducted by Baba Ramdev at Rajpath in New Delhi. Organisers expect this to break the world record for the largest yoga class ever.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will fly to the U.S. to lead the events planned in New York. She has called yoga the "best soft power India has".

The government is also organising yoga gatherings in more than 190 countries, except Yemen where it had to recently shut its embassy because of the conflict.

There has been a surge of interest in yoga across India too.

According to ANI, over 100,000 camps will be set up across the country on June 21 for yoga sessions in which around 100 million people are expected to take part.

Yet some minority groups claim the move to promote yoga is a ploy to whip up Hindu pride and marginalize the country's 175 million Muslims

"It is a campaign to enforce Hindu rituals on all non-Hindus," said Abdul Rahim Qureshi, the assistant general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

The opposition Congress party has also attacked the yoga event as a political gimmick.

Proponents of yoga argue that it is an exercise regimen that transcends religion, and so Muslims are wrong to oppose it.

Rafiq Ali, an administrator at the Fatehpuri Muslim senior secondary school in Delhi, told Reuters that the school recently introduced yoga in its curriculum and at least 350 Muslim students take lessons every week.

"We teach yoga but have excluded the prayers and Hindu chants," Ali said, referring to "Om", a Hindu chant evoked during yoga.

"Why end the event with a Hindu prayer?" Ali asked. "The government can end it with the national anthem if they believe yoga belongs to India."

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out that “yoga does not discriminate”.

"Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one's fellow human beings and for the planet we share," he said in his message for the first International Day of Yoga.

- Karan Singh

To Learn More:

Brace yourself for yoga day (by Adrija Chatterjee, Business Standard)

Modi’s Yoga Day Grips India, and ‘Om’ Meets ‘Ouch!’ (by Ellen Barry, New York Times)

PM Modi's yoga offensive gets Muslims stressed (by Rupam Jain Nair and Andrew MacAskill, Reuters)

Yoga does not discriminate, brings simple sense of satisfaction, says UN chief Ban Ki-moon (PTI)


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