Yoga, an instrument of Hindu nationalists

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Since coming to power in 2014, the Bharatiya janata party (BJP) has made the promotion of yoga one of the axes of its cultural policy. A tool of influence abroad, it is also an instrument of the ideology of Hindu nationalists.

Usually, the Indian Prime Minister is spectacular. But this year, on the International Day of yoga, Narendra Modi had to play the card of sobriety and be satisfied with a video message. Despite everything, he took the opportunity to remind the world of the alleged benefits of yoga. “Today, the world realizes the importance of yoga all the more because of the coronavirus,” he said facing the camera, an Indian flag hoisted by his side. “Several postures can strengthen your immune defenses,” he continued on the occasion of this 5th International Yoga Day, celebrated on June 21. Due to the pandemic, the Indian Prime Minister called on his fellow citizens to practice with their families and indoors.

Since its creation in 2015, International Yoga Day has been exported around the world, where group sessions are organized: from New Delhi to Paris, via Tokyo and California. The head of the Indian state, himself, usually participates in one of these gigantic sessions. In 2019, Narendra Modi had carried out his Asanas (postures) among tens of thousands of followers in Ranchi, Jharkhand. In 2018, he mingled with a crowd of 50 attendees at a forest glade in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. For the first edition of this event in 000, the Hindu nationalist had created the surprise by settling on a yoga mat on the Rajpath, the avenue connecting the headquarters of the presidency to India Gate in New Delhi.

The Indian Prime Minister, from the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – Indian People's Party), is behind this international day. As soon as he came to power in 2014, he fought for the United Nations to declare June 21, the summer solstice, as international yoga day. When he introduced his motion for a resolution during the 69th session of the General Assembly, he underlined that “yoga symbolizes the union of mind and body, of thought and action. It is a valuable global approach for our health and well-being”. The stated objective: to raise public awareness of the many benefits of yoga. One hundred and seventy-five Member States lending their support. A record and a nice diplomatic coup.

"The most influential public good inIndia »

Yoga is becoming one of India's cultural outreach tools abroad. “Yoga is now India's most influential public good,” said Gautam Chikermane, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation, in an essay published on the think tank's website. "Looking at the images posted on social media across six continents, the fact that India has succeeded in convincing the world of the health benefits of yoga is now indisputable," continues the researcher. For him, New Delhi's victory in terms of soft power was to claim yoga, practiced throughout the world, as an Indian idea. In 2016, Unesco even included this practice in the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. "Based on the harmony of body, mind and soul to improve physical, spiritual and mental well-being, the values ​​of yoga are part of the philosophy of the community", argues Unesco.

The Prime Minister never misses an opportunity to promote it, especially on social networks, such as Twitter. "Yoga with Modi", a YouTube channel launched in 2018, lists dozens of videos in which a 3D avatar of the Prime Minister practices different yoga postures. The instructions are available in Indian languages ​​such as Hindi, Gujarati or Maharati, but also in French, Arabic or Korean!

The South Asian giant even has a full-fledged ministry dedicated to yoga and traditional medicines, such as Ayurvedic. Recently, the latter also published advice on how to fight the virus (1) by strengthening your immunity with a series of traditional remedies. However, there is no scientific evidence to confirm the effectiveness of these decoctions in the prevention of Covid-19. One of the ministry's most controversial recommendations was the use of Arsenicum album 30, a homeopathic dilution of arsenic. Politicians from the ranks of the BJP have gone so far as to advise drinking cow urine, a sacred animal in Hinduism.

“Yoga symbolizes the union of mind and body, thought and action. It is a valuable global approach for our health and well-being. » Narendra Modi

“The confinement was an opportunity to further promote yoga, but also Ayurveda, confirms Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, political analyst. This turns out to be in perfect accord with the narrative of the Hindu nationalists, that India's golden age must be restored and all of its non-Hindu heritage must be eliminated. Narendra Modi and the BJP are criticized for their Hindu reading of India's culture, to the detriment of its multi-faith identity.

The Prime Minister may publicly declare that yoga does not "discriminate", that it transcends "race", "colour", "religion" or even "nations", not everyone sees it in this way. eye. The promotion of this discipline has had its share of controversy since 2015. At the time, critics denounced the disguised desire to promote Hindu religious practices through yoga. Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu extremist now head of the state of Uttar Pradesh, said at the time that those resisting "sun salutations" had better "leave India or drown in the oceans". . A fine example of harmony.

“These efforts in terms of images have certainly earned Modi honors”, judge Bidisha Biswas and Anish Goel in a column published on the news site scroll (2). “But since 2019, these efforts have been overshadowed by the far-right BJP agency,” they continue. Since the BJP's landslide victory in the 2019 parliamentary elections, Hindu nationalists have accelerated reforms. In August 2019, they brutally revoked the constitutional autonomy of Kashmir, the only Indian region with a Muslim majority. In December, Parliament passed the highly controversial citizenship law and brutally suppressed protests by opponents. What arouse the concern of the international community. The United Nations has deemed this law – which facilitates access to citizenship for refugees from neighboring countries on the condition of not being Muslim, “fundamentally discriminatory”. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has expressed concern about the rise of intolerance against minorities in India. “A country's soft power effectively depends on its ability to provide a public good to the world,” recall Bidisha Biswas and Anish Goel. But only if it is consistent with the internal politics of this country”. To meditate.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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