The Yogi and the Hindu

India took a significant step to the right with the state-sponsored carnival of the first International Day of Yoga, which was held on Sunday in New Delhi.

Yoga has nothing to do with politics, and cutting across religion, culture and nationality it has had practitioners, many of whom might even make claim that it helped them calm the mind and tone up the body. The active practitioners, however, are a small minority in India.

The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to project yoga as India’s official cult. Modi made a high-profile attendance at the event in Delhi on Sunday where some 37000 people practiced yoga on a main avenue that was closed to traffic.

Modi in Delhi

Modi in Delhi

The Hindu fundamentalists claim that the event had nothing to do with religion, but only a moron will fail to discern the state-sponsored yoga campaign’s strong religious bias. The event was carefully choreographed so that Modi hogged the limelight as the torchbearer of the Hindu culture.

The cult of yoga blended with Modi’s cult of personality and the symbiosis was nationally televised.

Amidst the people who gathered at the Sunday carnival, mostly novices in yoga, Modi looked – and behaved – like a pro, even correcting the asanas (postures) of school children who were of course overawed by him. India has never had a prime minister who took on the incarnation of a yogi!

But a yoga instructor from the Hindu heartland who teaches my friend told her after watching Modi on television that his mastery of yoga is imperfect shows lack of practice. The pretender’s role comes naturally to India’s politicians.

It is entirely possible that, as Markandey Katju, a distinguished former Chief Justice of India, noted, Modi keeps inventing such stunts to keep the game going for his non-performing government. First it was the campaign Modi launched to clean the Ganges of its mountain-load of filth, a campaign that tapped into the Hindu’s spiritual regard for the holy river, but packaged as a secular drive for clean environment.

Katju wrote, “This Government obviously believes in stunts. ‘Vikas’ (development) has been put in the cold storage. Next drama?”

Ideally speaking, Caesar should be content with the things that are already his, and should leave to God things that are God’s. Modi cannot complain. He has done exceedingly well as Caesar.

He has aggrandized power in an unprecedented way, ignoring cabinet ministers and disregarding the cabinet system of government, taking all major decisions and most minor decisions himself. A former deputy prime minister and respected elder statesman belonging to Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), L. K. Advani warned publicly last week against the arrogance of power and about the lurking threat posed by authoritarianism to India’s democracy.

The real danger lies somewhere else, though. The Modi government is using yoga as a cult to regiment Indian society. Sunday’s carnival is the latest act in an invidious campaign by the Hindu fundamentalists, which began with Modi’s ascendancy to power, aimed at making India a “Hindu nation.”

The entire Indian bureaucracy was directed to hold rehearsal for days to prepare for the carnival on Sunday. Modi’s ministers fanned out to remote corners of the country to register their presence in the local carnivals.

But Modi is a clever politician. Propagating yoga in this vast country of 1.3 billion people also gives the perfect pretext for the government to fund the activities of institutions and individuals involved in this field. Needless to say, the Hindu nationalists who are the foot soldiers of his political party, mostly run such entities.

Cynics may say that in reality all that is happening is that yet another layer is being added to the thick blanket of hypocrisy that already envelops India’s public life.

Yoga demands mental and physical discipline, but, Modi’s party colleagues and ministers who have plunged into yoga are not exactly the paragons of virtue.  Serious allegations of impropriety and abuse of power and outright corruption have surfaced recently about some of Modi’s colleagues.

India would have been a far better place to live if only these con artists actually begin practising yoga and discover for themselves a moral compass at some point in their adult life.

Indeed, it is a cruel joke to preach yoga to the hundreds of millions of Indians who have no hope on earth left. Some two hundred million Indians – yes, 200 million – do not even get around to eating one square meal per day. Nonetheless, the government estimates that India’s “soft power” will get a boost by propagating yoga abroad.

Of course, there is also that inevitable “China angle” in everything that India does. It tickles Indian vanity to no end that China’s armory of “soft power” has nothing to match yoga.

But then, there is a contrarian opinion possible, too: at some point China might simply do reverse engineering and itself become the world’s number one yoga-exporting country. The mats, which were used in Modi’s carnival in Delhi on Sunday, were actually made in China.

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Categories: Asia Times News & Features, M.K. Bhadrakumar, South Asia

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  • Maria Adams

    Cut & Past: [Of course, there is also that inevitable “China angle” in everything
    that India does. It tickles Indian vanity to no end that China’s armory
    of “soft power” has nothing to match yoga.] *** NOT TRUE!!!: China DOES have a counter part to Yoga –> Tai Chi!!!

  • anand

    this is how an ashamed indian of congress regime who had done nothing at all for his country would talk about things that does even belong to him.

  • Alpha50

    Pertinent point about China capitalizing on selling yoga mats. They also sell Muslim prayer mats and all the ‘religious’ objects sold at Mecca. While others practice religion, China makes business.


    I thank author for expressing my views in this article.

  • Poda De

    Q : Sir, Pardon my long question – You know the President & VP of Indian National Congress are Public Figures but no information is shared even with their own followers on any details of their overseas trips for wellness or vacations. Does this not amount to their treating supporters with utter disrespect as if they are Untouchables because these pampered & glorified leaders are of Italian origin ? Why does it not occur to these Congressmen to revolt against these leaders for being so secretive about themselves & also not providing any short-term or long-term direction to the party ? A : Foxes are cunning enough to keep sheep & goats as such !

  • Iqbal Pyarali Rahim

    Brilliant Bhadrakumar !

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Few problems with Yoga and Modi. Modi is not a Yogi, he is promoting it, but he has not done Yoga all of his life in the manner that Indira Gandhi did. She had a personal instructor, and practiced Yoga during her entire time in office and before that. She did not make Yoga an international or even national issue.
    The practice of Yoga is a personal issue. Having said that I would also like to point out to “Swachh Bharat” (Clean India campaign) of Modi. That is when Modi took a broom to the parliament, as a symbol of cleaning up India. Months later Indian cities are dirtier than ever. Then comes the push for Yoga. That became an international issue and a domestic issue.
    Already non Hindus, (and some Hindus) are protesting to the New Delhi imposed Yoga. Modi wants Yoga made compulsory in India’s public schools. That would be extremely divisive for India though it may unite the Hindus.
    Back to the 1990s’ when the BJP under Vajpayee, had RSS member tear down the Mosque at the holy city of Ayodhya, with an intention of building a temple to Rama, claiming that this site was the birth place of Rama. They could have dismantled and moved the Mosque, The BJP chose to tear this 16th century Mosque down instead.
    The BJP and the Gujarati Nationalism of Modi (who also saw the carnage of Gujarati Muslims when he was chief minister of that state) now want:
    -The Rama temple built
    -Article 370 of (mainly Muslim) Kashmir abolished
    -Impose Yoga on all, including Indians who do not want to do this.
    It may unite the Hindus. It will divide India.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    One more note. As a long time student of Yoga, where I practiced Hatha yoga from my teens to my late 30’s the picture of Modi doing that asana requires the Knees to be flat against the ground, and not raised so high. That alone shows me Modi has not done this basic Hatha Yoga asana at all.

  • Qiaobao

    The good thing about Yoga is that you cannot practice Yoga and talk at the same time. So it is especially beneficial to the loquacious Indians, who otherwise would talk to no end. A great invention indeed!
    That China has nothing comparable is untrue. Even in the West, one sees more and more practitioners of Qigong (Chi K’ung), a kind of meditative self-acupuncture, and Tajiquan (Tai Chi), a kind of dynamic Yoga. And Chinese have no chauvinist qualms at all of adding Yoga to their practice

  • Syn Hope

    It will divide Hindus first before dividing India. I understand your concern though.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    I am a dispassionate observer. Try to be, Whether it Unites or divides India or a nation all I can do is make a comment, an observation. I maybe completely wrong.

  • teddyfromcd

    as a filipino — that of course grew up with plenty of filipino-chinese – and my best friend is filipino-chinese (his father was from the mainland) –

    one thing I truly admire about the chinese is:

    their ability to embrace other cultures if they see something beneficial and practical – without any fear at all that they lose their ‘chineseness’.

    to others this is ‘copying’ — but imo – it is not – it is the ability to recognize that ‘there is something i do not have – it can be useful — i will add it to what i have”…

    and what is not useful is rejected.

    it is a simple – elegant – , imo a wise way of living.
    a great example of this in sports is:

    the now-retired superb tennis player – LI NA.

    for years she was known as a ‘very talented, powerful player who is a head-case – inconsistent – brilliant one day, bad the next day”…

    but late in her career – she put her skills together and eventually won 2 major titles – grand slam titles – australian open and french open.

    with her rise to the top of the ranks as a majors champ – she also WOWED the entire sports and tennis world with her personality – her very natural, direct humor, her no-nonsense but always respectful remarks and her realism in the midst of all the attention and expectations.

    she embraced the global ‘requirements’ of being a celebrity –but never forgot or abandoned her chineseness…

    she could say during her career- perhaps even earning the displeasure of the chinese leadership:

    “I want to decide independently what to do with my money — i am doing this for my career”..

    but also in her retirement — “i am chinese — i know many have come to appreciate what i did for women’s tennis as an asian woman — but i also am proud that i did it as someone who comes from china….and i leave the sport that i love because my body can’t do it anymore…

    ”but also – because all my career for so long it’s always been about me – and what i needed – my husband – my family everyone had to take a back seat for me — now i must become a wife and a mother and pay attention to my family , relatives and my friends and do something for my country’s sports”

  • teddyfromcd

    agreed – i also did yoga during my university years long ago as my regular daily exercise or meditation.

    definitely true about the lotus posture..knees down on the ground and legs flat just like the leaves or petals floating and touching the water…and the torso like the flower above it.

    i never properly did the head-stand though..

  • teddyfromcd

    still — with both india’s and china’s ancient practices such as yoga and qi-gong ? – tai-chi – etc..

    wouldn’t it be wonderful for the world to truly learn not just the hows of these but also the why’s?

    and practice them?

    we all need BOTH india and china and their ancient wisdoms. we should wish for and hope that they use these to come together in genuine respect and friendship of two of the great and oldest cultures on earth!!

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Good to know. Want to add Modi is not doing the Lotus position. He is bringing his feet together. and the knees need to be flat. then one bends down at the waist and your face is at the level of the ground. that is the entire asana. it stretches the sides of your torso and the inner part of your legs as well.

  • teddyfromcd

    the bringing feet together must be that part of the initial stretching. if i remember correctly — but isn’t there the part also that the feet are then raised each of them crossing the other to rest on each lap — and then the knees are down to the floor?

    please remind me/

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Two different positions. One starts off with the lotus position. If knees are raised, then time and effort the knees are brought down. It is mainly for the 1st step where one sits erect, concentrates on every aspect of the body to relax every muscle while controlling how one breathes, eyes closed to avoid distraction and then the “stilling of the mind” where thought is slowed down and eventually “stopped”. To even think “Iam not thinking” is to think. That whole process takes a while
    What was seen in the picture was one single asana. That is bringing the feet together, keeping an erect torso and then bending down slowly to the floor.
    Another twist to this is bring the left foot to the groin and extend the right foot out. Then with your left hand you reach over and and grab your right foot. Your right hand is also extended to your right foot. reverse the process. It is a very good stretch along the sides of the torso and the inner parts of the leg. This all the while of controlling your breathing.

  • Qiaobao

    If China would only agree to copy what it should copy, and not copy what it should not copy, then nobody would complain