The success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in convincing the United Nations to declare 21 June as International Yoga Day (IYD) has two aspects – one that meets the eye and the other that is to be read between the lines. If the first is innocuous, the second is insidious.
There has been needless controversy over the first, while the deeper import of the second hasn’t yet been much pondered over. If the BJP patriarch LK Advani let the cat out of the saffron bag by asserting on IYD that "cultural nationalism" – his party&’s credo – “is gaining ground in the country and its impact is clearly visible,” leading lights of the Sangh Parivar, including Mr Ram Madhav, are giving away through their statements their Hidutva agenda camouflaged in the hype over IYD.
Let’s go into the first aspect first. It has been amply explained that there&’s nothing religious about yoga and those outside the Hindu faith needn’t be disturbed or alarmed by the prospect of participating in yoga drills. All misgivings and false fears about yoga would at once be dispelled if one only examines the etymological meaning of the word “yoga”.
The word of Sanskrit origin simply means “connecting” or “getting connected.” Now, the question is connecting or getting connected with what. The answer is connecting the human body or the human physical apparatus with psychic powers or forces of the conscious, subconscious or supraconscious layers of the mind. There is nothing religious or narrow about it. At best one could find in it elements of psychology or even parapsychology. One goal of performing the postures of yoga is to attune the body through physical drill to the psychic realm in order to unlock hidden and unexplored energies of the mind.
Whether one can achieve this ultimate goal is a different proposition, but the benefits one can obtain from fine-tuning the body with the help of the different asanas or postures developed by the savants of ancient India are indeed immense.
The ability to lead a life relatively free from ailments through proper blood circulation and movement of the muscles and the bones with the help of the asanas is itself a great boon. If storm-tossed minds of people living a complex modern life with many temptations and allurements of luxury and comfort can regain balance or equanimity through connecting the body parts with psychic energies, that would be the greatest gain, though it is perhaps reserved for the very best. Viewed from this perspective performing yoga is like attending any gym or physical training session and as the human body admits of no religion the hue and cry over yoga hurting religious sentiments is the product of sick and convoluted minds.
Now, let’s come to the second aspect of IYD. The zealots Hindtuva, who are members of the saffron brigade, have gone overboard in projecting IYD as mascot Narendra Modi&’s resounding success in the international arena. This at a time when his stock in domestic politics is showing signs of decline in the wake of Modigate, failure to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks, price rise and giving free rein to crony capitalists.
It is being used to serve a dual purpose – divert people&’s attention from Mr Modi&’s failure to live up to his tall electoral promises, including transparency in governance and delivering unlike its paralytic and corrupt predecessor and surreptitiously advancing the Sangh Parivar&’s hidden agenda.
The process of planting seeds of a bigoted saffron culture in the psyche of the masses of the country began with unprecedented zeal soon after Mr Modi assumed office as Prime Minister. First, he started to sweep away the vestiges of the legacy of Congress rule through a frontal attack in a clever, cunning way.
The Modi-government tried to launch its assault on the greatest Congress icon – Mahamta Gandhi – by observing October 2, his birth anniversary, as the Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) day. In effect, the BJP-government tried to force the nation to work on a day being observed since the country&’s independence as a national holiday to pay homage to the father of the nation. Through this device, the government achieved a measure of success in its design to erase Gandhi Jayanti as a national holiday.
The Hindutva brigade’s hand in IYD has become apparent with the obnoxious insinuation of Ram Madhav that Vice President Hamid Ansari had skipped the function because he is a Muslim, even though the main reason was protocol.
Mr Ansari is known to have been practicing yoga exercises for years. Another BJP lightweight went a step further asking those who are averse to the idea of IYD to go to Pakistan. This is the real intent of the BJP&’s hype over IYD – to show it has a monopoly over ancient Indian culture developed by sadhus and saints. Catapulting yoga on the world stage marks a great advancement of this brand of Hindutva.
If Mr Advani&’s assertion of the “growth” of cultural nationalism under BJP rule is a backhanded compliment to Mr Modi, his apprehension of a return to authoritarianism in the form of Emergency perhaps betrays his anxiety that the country may be overrun by new storm troopers produced in the RSS laboratory.
The writer is Coordinating editor, the statesman.