India PM Modi's yoga offensive gets Muslims stressed

Hindu nationalist groups say they want to resurrect India's past glory, based on a mix of history and Hindu myth


Reuters June 16, 2015
An enthusiastic practitioner of the regimen himself, Modi set up a new ministry for yoga last year. PHOTO COURTESY: DOYOUYOGA.COM

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to seize on yoga as India's signature cultural export have his Hindu nationalist allies swelling with pride, but are leaving minority religious groups feeling marginalised.

An enthusiastic practitioner of the regimen himself, Modi set up a new ministry for yoga last year. He also persuaded the United Nations to declare June 21 International Day of Yoga — the first of which will be celebrated in New Delhi on Sunday with a mega yoga event, with schools encouraged to take part.

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

The ministry says yoga is "widely considered as an 'immortal cultural outcome' of the Indus Saraswati valley civilizations," which date back to 2,700 B.C.

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Hindu nationalist groups, including Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have said they want to resurrect India's past glory, a concept based on a mix of history and Hindu myth.

"Yoga is part of ancient India's cultural heritage," said Manmohan Vaidya, an RSS spokesperson. "By celebrating yoga on a mass scale we are validating our glorious past."

The glory days, however, precede Islam and Christianity, and the yoga push comes at a time of heightened fears among religious minorities that the BJP and its right-wing allies are trying to change India from a secular nation to a Hindu country.

Members of India's minority groups say the move to promote yoga is a ploy to whip up Hindu pride and marginalize the country's 175 million Muslims.

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India's main opposition Congress party has also attacked the yoga event as a political gimmick. "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.

Omitting 'OM'

Every morning when at his official bungalow, Modi sits cross-legged on a cotton mat for yoga and meditation. He spends 20 minutes in a room overlooking manicured lawns and palm trees.

"For several years it has been his way to streamline his thoughts ahead of a gruelling schedule," an aide said. Some proponents of yoga argue that it is an exercise regimen that transcends religion, and so Muslims are wrong to oppose the government for encouraging it.

Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest who is now a prominent BJP legislator, said last week minority groups that oppose yoga should either leave the country or drown themselves in the sea.

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The RSS last year passed a resolution calling for yoga to be made compulsory in schools and universities. Rafiq Ali, an administrator at the Fatehpuri Muslim senior secondary school in Delhi, said 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 said. "The government can end it with the national anthem if they believe yoga belongs to India."

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COMMENTS (20)

peter | 5 years ago | Reply One of the top terrorist of this era. Now believes in spirituality and yoga. I know yoga is about peace, aurangzeb was a muslim modi is not. Donot compare the two when there first step of beliefs don't meet agendas. Aurangzeb never committed mass genocide on a hindu, sikh, christian population under his rule and did'nt fume hatred between them. Modi did very little to protect muslims. India is far from being democratic with there class/cast system for instants what about untouchables there are not humans because your god created them from his/her feet with all due respect ? India has the most modern day slaves, yet you wanna celebrate yoga day . Wake up !
Appan | 6 years ago | Reply @Kam: Great discovery!! YOu are rewriting the history!! LoL. Yoga was born during vedic period and budhism between 6th and 4th century BC. Both have certain similarities and differences.Anyway buddhism was also born in India like hinduism. It has been made clear that yoga is beyond any religion.
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