Thursday 22 August 2019

International Yoga Day underlines strength of India’s role on world stage

Premier Narendra Modi, who established the annual celebration of the practice, was among those taking part in public sessions.

Indians perform yoga to mark International Yoga Day (Altaf Qadri/AP)
Indians perform yoga to mark International Yoga Day (Altaf Qadri/AP)

By Emily Schmall, Associated Press

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has continued his quest to use yoga to promote his country on the world stage, leading by example on International Yoga Day.

Mr Modi successfully lobbied the United Nations to designate June 21 International Yoga Day in his first year in power in 2014.

Since then, just as China under President Xi Jinping has given countries pandas for their zoos in a show of goodwill, Mr Modi has used one of India’s most popular exports to assert his nation’s rising place in the world.

On Friday, the fifth annual International Yoga Day, Mr Modi practised various yoga “asanas” alongside an estimated 40,000 people in India’s eastern state of Jharkhand as members of his Cabinet and foreign envoys rolled out their yoga mats in cities around the world.

“Let our motto be yoga for peace, harmony and progress,” Mr Modi said before joining the hour-long session.

Most of India’s 191 embassies and consulates worldwide organised yoga sessions to commemorate the day, according to the foreign ministry.

The ministry shared photos of yoga flash mobs on the streets of Kiev, colourful yoga mats around Brussels’ Triumphal Arch, sun salutations under the Washington Monument, hundreds in seated prayer pose at Moscow’s Tagansky Park and more than 500 people in identical transparent ponchos and black pants in front of the Yellow Crane Tower in rainy Wuhan, China.

At an event for diplomats in New Delhi featuring India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Israel’s ambassador Ron Malka said Mr Modi’s use of yoga as a tool of diplomacy is “working quite well” to strengthen ties between the two countries.

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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi performs yoga (Rajesh Kumar/AP)

Walter Lindner, the German ambassador to India, described Mr Modi’s yoga bid at the UN a “clever move”.

“Yoga is a product which you can sell everywhere in the world,” Mr Lindner said, adding that four million people were participating in International Yoga Day events in Germany.

Mr Modi has also used yoga to bolster his image at home.

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Navy personnel and their families perform yoga aboard the navy vessel INS Viraat on International Yoga Day in Mumbai, India (Rajanish Kakade/AP)

Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a resounding victory in India’s recently concluded general elections by promoting a “New India” that pairs rapid economic growth with the trappings of the country’s ancient roots.

After the final day of polling, Mr Modi, who casts himself as a Hindu ascetic who closely follows the religion’s strictures on vegetarianism and yoga, retreated to a Himalayan mountain cave to meditate, with a camera crew in tow.

Mr Modi last year released a two-minute video showing him practising yoga on his lawn at the prime minister’s residence.

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Indian politicians perform yoga in front of the parliament house to mark International Yoga Day in New Delhi (AP)

Some online commentators used the opportunity to compare Mr Modi with India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Many shared pictures of Mr Nehru doing a headstand, an advanced yoga posture.

Of the benefits, Mr Nehru wrote in his autobiography: “The slightly comic position increased my good humour and made me a little more tolerant of life’s vagaries.”

PA Media

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