Yoga that united the world, but left India divided


By Rifat Jawaid

Follow me on twitter @RifatJawaid

As expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brainchild, International Yoga Day, created not one but two Guinness World Records after participants from 84 countries joined 35000 plus enthusiasts at the Rajpath to mark this day in style.

And the enthusiasm didn’t remain confined just to India. 193 other countries too joined in to celebrate this ancient art of Indian exercise.

Prime Minister Modi had every right to brag about this achievement from a podium at the Rajpath. Speaking on the occasion, he reminded his countrymen how it was a matter of immense pride for every Indian that more than 190 countries had pledged to celebrate a day that he had successfully managed to convince the world to celebrate during his maiden speech at the United Nations.

Prime minister may have wanted his countrymen to feel proud what yoga had achieved internationally, but little did he know that hours later all our heads would hang in shame. And he will have his senior party colleagues or sympathisers to blame.

There were several controversies surrounding the International Yoga Day in the period leading up to the June 21 event. Few Muslim groups announced to boycott the event on the grounds that surya namaskar was against the teachings of Islam. Then there were Modi’s known political detractors such as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Laloo Yadav and the senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who seldom missed any opportunity to mock both the PM and the BJP for their ‘attempt to appropriate’ yoga. While Congress party reminded the BJP that the concept of yoga was championed even by JL Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Nitish Kumar took a dig at BJP president Amit Shah advising him to look after ‘his own body before preaching others about yoga.

However, when his bete noire, Arvind Kejriwal, advised reporters on the day that one should not do politics on yoga, it appeared as if the PM had finally pulled off an amazing feat in getting even his political detractors on board.

This notion was short-lived though and left exposed by none other than Modi’s trusted lieutenants after his party spokesperson, Ram Madhav, made a desperate attempt to communalise what had so far been a perfect event despite all the politics leading up to the event.

Madhav tweeted questioning why Vice President Hamid Ansari was not present at the Rajpath when the President Pranab Mukherjee had turned up for the same. His tweet implied that Ansari’s decision may have been influenced by his religious beliefs. Moments later, Madhav posted another tweet apologising for his previous assertion and conceding that it was wrong for him to question the integrity of a constitutional post as reputed as that of the VP.

Madhav’s tweets became viral with social media users condemning his ‘dirty innuendo’ and some even describing this as BJP’s spectacular own goal.

Soon, we learnt that the VP had never been invited to attend the event with his office saying that Ansari would have happily attended the IYD if he was invited.

BJP sympathiser Swapan Dasgupta criticised the ‘only tax-payer funded Left channel’ Rajya Sabha TV for allegedly giving the yoga celebrations a miss. His extraordinary claims were thrashed by the channel’s CEO, Gurdeep Singh Sappal, who took to twitter to describe Dasgupta’s allegations as ‘white lies.’

Singh published as many as four YouTube links in support of his claim that not only had the RS TV broadcast the live events from the Rajpath, but it also carried several specially commissioned documentaries to mark the day.

RS tv

rs tv2

So, as it emerged, there was no blackout by Rajya Sabha TV as alleged by the BJP supporters and the VP had chosen to stay at home not because of his dislike for yoga but because he was simply not invited.

Sunday’s development wasn’t the first time that Hamid Ansari was subjected to utterly despicable behaviour by the members of the saffron brigade. His identity as a Muslim, had come for serious scrutiny even in January this year, when during the Republic Day Parade, he chose not to salute the Indian tricolour while the national anthem was being played. There was nothing unpatriotic about his decision because there’s indeed no tradition of saluting the flag during the national anthem. And, yet Ansari was hung, drawn and quartered by the right-wing groups.

One would have expected Prime Minister Modi to come out not just in support of Ansari but also chide the unruly elements within his party for their disrespect to a constitutional post. But, disappointingly he remained silent.

It’s amazing how a prime minister, who’s known for his eloquence, suddenly mutes himself exactly when he ought to have spoken the most. He has barely spoken anything about his intention to reign in those who his party want to call fringe elements. The prime minister’s inability to control the likes of Adityanath, Prachi and Sakshi Maharaj shows how powerful these so-called fringe elements are within his party. Or, as the opposition often alleges, Modi’s silence could be a part of BJP’s good cop-bad cop game, whereby the PM has to be seen as a unifying man concerned about the population at large while the hatemongers silently encouraged to carry out divisive agenda along the religious lines.

Not so long ago, a village in Haryana, which BJP wrested from Congress, was literally burning after a 2000-strong armed men attacked the minorities before burning their houses, properties  and the only place of worship they had. 150 odd Muslims couldn’t construct a place of worship for themselves despite being allowed to do so by the court because lunatics in the village appeared to think that a mosque and a temple simply couldn’t exist next to each other. The Prime Minister could have, albeit quietly, spoken to his chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar instructing him to ensure the safety of Muslims. But he failed to do so.

Let’s not forget that PM Modi has a long way to go in winning the hearts and minds of Indian Muslims. With 282 strong MPs in the parliament, he continues to be a very powerful leader particularly within his own party. Notwithstanding his party’s near annihilation in Delhi elections, his grip over his party has still not loosened.

He is, therefore, best suited to effectively tackle the ‘fringe elements’ or the hatemongers within his party now. Bihar elections are only couple of months away. Several senior leaders have quietly confessed to me that anything less than a victory in Bihar will be deemed as the beginning of the end for Brand Modi. He’s already on a sticky wicket following serious revelations that three of his prominent colleagues, Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje Scindia and her MP son Dushyant Singh had committed acts of impropriety in what’s being described as Lalitgate scandal. These revelations have robbed him off any future opportunities to flaunt about presiding over a ‘clean government.’ A defeat in Bihar is something he simply can’t afford.

So, Prime Minister Modi can remain silent even at the shenanigans of his colleagues at his own peril. By merely indulging in carefully orchestrated photo ops at times with some maulvis or on other occasions with a Bhagwat Gita contest winner from Mumbai don’t really help.

Despite it being Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims around the world fast from dawn to dusk, hundreds of Muslims responded to his call to take part in the International Yoga Day celebrations. It’s a shame that the subsequent developments caused by his colleagues put paid to all his efforts. While yoga became a rallying point for the world to unite, sadly this very ancient form of exercise left India severely divided in the end.

Rifat Jawaid is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Janta Ka Reporter



  2. It was reported that some of our Sikh organisations also chose to criticise Yoga. Their criticism stemmed from the ignorance of their own scriptures which are full of reference to Dhyan, Pranayaam , Ida, pingla, Sukhamana, dasam dwar, anhad shabad and so on. Guru Nanak himself had many meetings with Naths and Yogis. He criticised the rituals, symbolism and escapism of the yogis and not Yoga per se. However this is not to endorse the politicisation and communalisation of Yoga by some Hindu organisations.
    Bhatt Kavi Kalh says “Kavi Kalh Sujas gaavhu Guru Nanak Raj Jog Jin manyo.” (SGGS)