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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 102-105

The International Yoga Day, political discourse, and soft power game in India

Independent Public Health Researcher, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India

Date of Submission29-Feb-2020
Date of Decision07-Mar-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Mar-2020
Date of Web Publication18-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Janmejaya Samal
C/o-Mr. Bijaya Ketan Samal, At-Pansapalli, Po-Bangarada, Via-Gangapur, Ganjam - 761 123, Bhubaneswar, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/bjhs.bjhs_15_20

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The International Day of Yoga is being celebrated every year on 21st June since 2015, throughout the globe. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 11, 2014, declared that 21st June would be celebrated as the International Day of Yoga or World Yoga Day following lobbying by the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi. One hundred and seventy countries around the globe supported the resolution which even did not require vote. Mr Narendra Modi, in his address to the UN in September 2014, stated that it is not about the exercises rather the way of discovering oneself. Furthermore, he stated that it is the longest day of the Northern Hemisphere and has special significance in many parts of the world. It is the day of summer solstice. It is now being celebrated beyond religion, region, and culture, however, it has been politicized since its first day of observation. It is neither an innocent event nor dissociated from politics and soft power game in India. Despite all these, many believe that it would live up to its lofty ideals and that these become its eternal legacy.

Keywords: Hindutva, India, politics, soft power, World Yoga Day

How to cite this article:
Samal J. The International Yoga Day, political discourse, and soft power game in India. BLDE Univ J Health Sci 2020;5:102-5

How to cite this URL:
Samal J. The International Yoga Day, political discourse, and soft power game in India. BLDE Univ J Health Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Apr 14];5:102-5. Available from: https://www.bldeujournalhs.in/text.asp?2020/5/2/102/303957

  What is Yoga Top

Yoga, originally a Sanskrit word that comes from the original word “yug” referring “to join,” thus, yoga refers to the means of uniting or a method of discipline.[1] This refers to the union of the body and the mind and together with the soul (self), otherwise, the union of the individual self with that of transcendental self.[2] Yoga comes from an oral tradition where the wisdom of yoga has been transmitted from a mentor to a disciple. Sage Patanjali is regarded as the Father of Yoga who collated this oral tradition in his classic work, the Yoga Sutra, a 2000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy. During the earlier days, yoga has been developed as a means of attaining meditation: preparing the body and nervous system for stillness. During these days, along with meditation, Yoga Asanas, and Pranayama have become popular in the West, and yoga has now become “westernized.” [3] It has different interpretations at different contexts, for some, it is a way of attaining a physically fit and healthy life; for other, a means of treating diseases and ailments; for others, it is the philosophical path to lead life; again for others, it is the road to spiritual awakening to accomplish higher consciousness; however, the bottom line of all these is to strive for peace and tranquility. According to the National Institute of Health-National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, yoga is one of the most popular forms of complementary and alternative medicine.[4]

  International Yoga Day Top

The International Yoga Day also called as “Yoga Day” is being celebrated every year worldwide on 21st June following its inception in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2014.[5] The prime minister of India suggested 21st June owing to its special significance in Northern hemisphere and being the longest day of the year.[6] Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the permanent representative of India, on December 11, 2014, introduced the draft resolution in the UN General Assembly. It received support from the 177 member states sponsoring the text which was then adopted without a vote. It was also supported by many global leaders and 177 nations co-sponsored the resolution, which created a record of the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UN General Assembly resolution of such nature.[7] Following the adoption of UN resolution, several spiritual leaders in India voiced their support for the International Yoga Day. Prominent among them includes Sadhguru, the Founder of Isha Foundation; Ravi Shankar, the Founder of Art of Living and stated that this was much needed, and yoga is now going to get state patronage for its propagation.

The first-ever International Yoga Day was observed worldwide on June 21, 2015. Necessary arrangements were made by the ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy in India. The first International Yoga Day witnessed 35, 985 participants including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and dignitaries from 84 countries. This event marked the largest yoga class ever in Rajpath New Delhi, where participants performed 21 Asanas (yoga postures) for 35 min with similar events in India and around the globe.[8]

Every year since 2015, the International Yoga Day is being celebrated with a theme. The following table [Table 1] delineates themes till 2019.
Table 1: Year-wise International Yoga Day themes

Click here to view

  The Political Discourse Top

Hindutva agenda

The adoption of yoga raised concerns in some communities and claims that the practice of yoga is religiously and politically laden act.[9] Especially the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) voiced against the celebration of International Yoga Day and some of the members of the same board opposed it by saying that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the current ruling party at the center is celebrating the day to enhance Hindu nationalist feeling. This created bitterness among the members of the BJP and one of the members said that the members of MPLB who are voicing against the novelty and cause of this day should get drowned in the sea. Furthermore, some Muslim politicians in India said that the Muslims are forced to practice non-Islamic religious practices in the name of Yoga Day. On the other hand, the practice of yoga, especially the bodily movements, has been accepted by many non-Hindu religious groups as a means of health and well-being despite being its debatable religious compatibility with these religious groups.[10]

  Use of Public Money to Celebrate the Day Top

The Indian National Congress Party opposed the event and opined that it is not good in the part of the government to use such public money to promote events like this. In some places, the party held rallies to protest it. The congress committee president of East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, led an event where hundreds of party workers assembled to join the “Walk for the Nation and Society.” This event was organized to oppose the privatization of yoga and promote the walk for the society and nation.[11]

  No Invitation to Vice President Hamid Ansari Top

The Vice President of India, Mr. Hamid Ansari, was not invited to the event of the International Yoga Day. As per the protocol, the concerned minister should invite the vice president to any concerned event under the ministry, however, in this case, he was not invited by the ministry. This further supplemented the government's promotion for Hindutva agenda as the vice president belongs to the Muslim religion.[11]

  International Yoga Day Events: From Where to Where not Top

In 2019, the 5th International Yoga Day was celebrated across the country. The newspaper reports during that day showed that even the Dog Unit of the Indian Army performed Yoga on the 5th International Yoga Day. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police practiced the Yoga along with their dogs and horses, which was popularly named as Yoga, Doga, and Hoga for practicing Army men, dogs, and horses, respectively. Armed forces were also found to practice the yoga who were on board of naval aircraft career INS Viraat which was docked at the cost line of scorching Mumbai city. The Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, who himself a yoga enthusiast, found to practice yoga along with 40,000 other yoga enthusiasts in Jharkhand. Interestingly, the yoga enthusiasts of the state of Gujarat were found to practice yoga in a 15th-century Adalaj Stepwell in the western part of the state.[12] As it was being celebrated at a global scale, there are reports of yoga practice by hundreds and thousands of yoga enthusiasts at New York's Time Square, by London's Themes and under Eiffel Tower of Paris.[13]

  Soft Power Game Top

As defined, soft power is noncoercive in nature, and the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. The American political scientist Joseph Nye, who first coined the word “soft power” in contrast to hard power that is usually exercised militarily and economically. According to him, soft power refers to the “capacity of a nation to alter the behavior of others to achieve what it wants.” Thus, soft power refers to the attractive qualities and indirect powers of persuasion of a country.[14] The soft power of a country is based on three main categories of resources: culture, political values, and foreign policies.[15] Within the ambit of culture, yoga could play an important role and as an important instrument in India's soft power game.[16],[17],[18],[19] It has been claimed by many authorities that it is one of the best soft power tools in India's global tool kit and in the USA alone it is one of the heavy-duty industries worth more than $30 billion.[13] The Modi Government's soft power emphasizes on the century-old Indian traditional values and practices such as the role of India as “Vishwaguru” or the global teacher and the idea of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam” or global family. According to him, at this present knowledge era, the role of India has become that of a “Vishwaguru” which refers to giving direction to the world and protection of own heritages.[20] The promotion of India's soft power in the form yoga and Bollywood movies is aimed at achieving India's foreign policy objectives and showcasing its bigger role in the global geopolitical arena. This will help India in propelling it as an emerging country with the potential to become a huge economic success.[21]

In recent years, soft power has become one of the important components of foreign policy internationally. The cultural and spiritual heritage of India has helped in developing greater links with Asia and Southeast Asia; more clearly, Hindu and Buddhist influences have helped in developing greater links within Southeast Asia. Similarly, yoga has been strategically used to build the image by India and to assuage the fear associated with its hard power build up. This is somewhat akin to the Chinese concept of “peaceful rise.” [22] Both Buddhism and yoga seemed to be a major influential branding mechanism for India. During the International Yoga Day celebration, the participation of armed forces for practicing yoga sent out a strong message of India's image as a country that fosters peaceful Indian military free from aggression, unlike the current Chinese military. This gesture of Indian military force helped winning India's goodwill in the international fora.[23] This was deliberately done to accomplish Modi's ambition of developing India as a prosperous domestic defense industry fulfilling India's growing military power aspirations, as India currently imports weapons from countries such as France, the United States, Israel, and Russia.[24] To gain support for this and establish India as a power epicenter in Southeast Asian region, India's image should be projected largely as a country of peaceful, spiritual, non-threatening, and benevolentally.[22] With this image, the hitherto Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott offered to sell uranium to India owing primarily to its nonthreatening image in the international platform and his belief that India has a clean track record when it comes to nonproliferation.[24] This indicates that the current government is pushing yoga as an important soft power instrument in gaining international trust and building an international image as a country that believes in its own ethnic bequest and would transform the world with the use of the same.

  Conclusion Top

Albeit, the celebration of the International Yoga Day is being carried out every year with specific themes, however, it can surely be accepted that it is neither an innocent event nor dissociated from the soft power game and politics. It should be remembered that despite its affiliation with political discourse in India, the celebration of the International Yoga Day and the practice of yoga, in general, should be promoted for its lofty ideals and the health and wellness that it brings to the humankind at large. This is also fostered by the UN General Assembly resolution and affirmed the significance of yoga as a means of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of individuals.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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Harirchian MH, Sahraian MA, Hosseinkhani A, Amirzargar N. Level of attitude toward complementary and alternative medicine among Iranian patients with multiple sclerosis. Iran J Neurol 2014;13:13-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
United Nations Information Center for India and Bhutan. New Delhi, India. Available from: http://www.unic.org.in/display.php?E=13712&K=Yoga. [Last accessed on 2019 Dec 15].  Back to cited text no. 5
UN Declares June 21 as 'International Day of Yoga'. Times of India; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 6
High Commission of India. London, United Kingdom. Available from: https://www.hcilondon.in/International_Day_of_Yoga.html. [Last accessed on 2019 Dec 10].  Back to cited text no. 7
Guinness World Records. Largest Yoga Lesson. Available from: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-yoga-class. [Last accessed on 2019 Dec 10].  Back to cited text no. 8
Gautam A, Droogan J. Yoga soft power: How flexible is the posture? J Int Commun 2018;24:18-36.  Back to cited text no. 9
McCartney P. Politics beyond the Yoga Mat: Yoga Fundamentalism and the “Vedic Way of Life” . Glob Ethnogr 2017;4:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 10
Jandial S. Yoga Day Celebrations and 4 Controversies that Surround it. India Today; 2015.  Back to cited text no. 11
BBC. Yoga Day: Thousands of Indians Celebrate the Day; 29 June, 2019. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48716520. [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 07].  Back to cited text no. 12
Vishakha DN. India Stretched its Soft Power on International Yoga Day, but the Real Work Begins Now. Quartz India; 25 June, 2015. Available from: https://qz.com/india/433644/india-stretched-its-soft-power-on- international-yoga-day-but-the-real-work-begins-now/. [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 08].  Back to cited text no. 13
Nye JS. Soft power. Foreign Policy 1990;80:153-71.  Back to cited text no. 14
Blechman BM. Soft power: The means to success in world politics. Polit Sci Quart 2004;119:680-2.  Back to cited text no. 15
Mazumdar A. India's soft power diplomacy under the Modi administration: Buddhism, diaspora and Yoga. Asian Aff 2018;49:468-91.  Back to cited text no. 16
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Tharoor S. Pax Indica: India and the World of the Twenty-First Century. UK: Penguin; 2013.  Back to cited text no. 18
Nisbett M. Who holds the power in soft power. Arts Int Aff 2016;1:110-4820.  Back to cited text no. 19
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Lahiri S. Soft power a major tool in Modi's foreign policy kit. J S Asian Stud 2017;05:39-47.  Back to cited text no. 22
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What is Yoga
International Yo...
The Political Di...
Use of Public Mo...
No Invitation to...
International Yo...
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