The word “Yoga” – In Sanskrit “योग” means to add, to unite is a physical, spiritual and mental practice invented in ancient India. Yoga is a very broad discipline that can be correlated with breathing control – Pranayama, medicine science “Ayurveda”, and even ancient martial arts and warfare arts like yuddhakalā (युद्धकला) and Kalaripayattu.
It is believed that when Aryan invaded India, they developed Yoga as a spiritual practice. Yoga is not a prototype of any religion but a cultural practice of the Indian subcontinent.
Politics and Diplomacy over Yoga:
After a sweeping victory in 2014, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi came up with his new revival plans for Yoga. He mentioned, “Yoga is India’s gift to the world.” He promoted people and cabinet ministers to practice Yoga as a daily part of life just like cellphones. Furthermore, he even appointed India’s first minister for Yoga. Yes, it sounds silly but India has a dedicated ministry “Ministry of Ayush” for Yoga.
Modi often talks about the benefits of Yoga with world leaders. Addressing the Australian Parliament in 2014, he said, “I know yoga is very popular here and we need to connect our people.” He also discussed Yoga with Obama at the White House dinner.
Modi proposed in United Nations to observe International Yoga Day in his speech at United Nations General Assembly on 27 September 2014. The draft was supported by all 177-member nations and 21 June was declared as the International Yoga Day.
On the first International Yoga Day, he marked it with an early morning yoga session with about 30,000 devotees in the north Indian city of Chandigarh. Millions more participated across the world, including thousands in Australia.
Connecting with the People:
Modi was able to re- connect with Indian diaspora worldwide. While visiting Manhattan Avenue in New Jersey I saw Modi’s pictures in shops and he is very popular in the Indian diaspora. He also received a rock star welcome by the Indian community in the US.
Modi has been also implementing policies to bring yoga into police academies, hospitals, and over 600,000 schools.
Economic Aspects: Yoga is estimated to be $10 billion industry, and promotion at such scale will bring more economic benefits for India. He connected with Indian diaspora and promoted foreign investors to invest in wellness industry under his “Make In India” campaign.
Modi’s creative use of India’s cultural heritage should be praised for his efforts to build diplomatic relationships and foreign policy.”
Being a secular country by the constitution, India has always refrained from adding any religious tint to policy formation and diplomacy. However, culture-based diplomacy is a connection to establish a relationship with Buddhist neighbors. Attaching Yoga with India’s Buddhist heritage through “Look East, Act East” policy, Modi is aiming to achieve economic collaboration.
Diplomatic Isolation of Pakistan:
Modi has an aggressive zero tolerance for terrorism policy for Pakistan. He smartly used Yoga to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. Before presenting the proposal in the UN, he advocated understanding between India and China in Chinese first lady’s India visit.
Pakistan did not show any interest in the proposal and was surprised to know China’s decision to become a co-sponsor. Pakistan was isolated to get support even in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) when eight of its members co-sponsored the resolution. In South Asia, their isolation was complete, with even OIC members such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Maldives co-sponsoring.
Critics argue that Modi is promoting hidden Hindu Nationalism agenda by the Ministry of Ayush. Yoga Diplomacy is also criticized for undermining other religious cultures.Yoga Diplomacy is also criticized for the use of government resources.
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