The spectacle of Yoga Day while Manipur continues to burn

As PM Modi draws massive criticism over his silence on the violence-torn Manipur, he is all set to lead a Yoga Day programme at the UN headquarters in New York

PM Narendra Modi performing yoga at Mysore Palace during the International Day of Yoga celebrations in 2022; Women from Manipur protested over ongoing violence in the state at Jantar Mantar on June 19. (photos: Getty Images)
PM Narendra Modi performing yoga at Mysore Palace during the International Day of Yoga celebrations in 2022; Women from Manipur protested over ongoing violence in the state at Jantar Mantar on June 19. (photos: Getty Images)

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Since assuming office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have taken International Yoga Day, which is celebrated every June 21, to newer heights, when it comes to spending.

An RTI query in 2017 revealed that the Ministry of Ayush had spent over Rs 30 crore every year for International Yoga Day celebrations up until then. In 2019, the Hindu BusinessLine reported that the government had spent Rs 140 crore in five years and the budget for the celebration in 2019 itself was around Rs 40 crore.

This year, the total expenditure on Yoga Day is bound to be exponentially higher considering the over-the-top celebration drill within the nation and beyond. According to various reports, the total expenditure of yoga day celebrations in 2023 is predicted to be above Rs 3000 crore.

The enormous effort around elevating yoga — India’s ancient cultural heritage — to the global level, has led him to celebrate the day at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, June 21, as a part of his 'first official US State Visit'.

Terming it 'IDY-2023', the government has launched a plethora of programmes to commemorate the day all year round.

The elaborate events include the '100 days, 100 cities, and 100 organisations' campaign from March 13-June 21, aimed at promoting and disseminating knowledge on yoga across the globe; the 'Arctic to Antarctica' campaign through which nations located along or in close proximity to the Prime Meridian will participate in yoga demonstrations; the 'Ocean Ring of Yoga' in which the Indian Navy, ministry of defence, ministry of external affairs and the ministry of ports, shipping and waterways together will organise yoga demonstrations across parts, ships within and beyond India; the Indian Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Border Road Organisation are also to participate in the demonstrations.

Besides Modi's preaching on the 'benefits of yoga' since landing in New York, the day so far has seen Union ministers performing yoga exercises in different cities and exalting yoga's "transformative power".

Among various other demonstrations, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that yoga has become India's "soft power" while leading a session with hundreds of participants at AIIMS, defence minister Rajnath Singh joined hundreds of Navy personnel on board INS Vikrant to perform yoga, and G20 delegates from several countries performed yoga at the Raj Bhavan in Goa alongside governor P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, Union tourism minister G. Kishan Reddy.

On the flip side of the progressively increasing Yoga Day theatrics, netizens and opposition parties alike have criticised Modi's stark silence over the unabated ethnic violence in Manipur going on for over 50 days.

"Manipur has been burning since last 50 days. 150+ citizens killed and more than 50000 people have been displaced. Incredible that the Indian Prime Minister is thinking of having dinner in the White House and celebrating Yoga day in the US, while Manipur burns," tweeted a user.

"Day 44 of Manipur violence: Union minister's official residence burnt by a mob. Meanwhile, Vishwaguru is preparing to head to the USA for Yoga Day celebrations," wrote another user on Twitter.

"As a thought experiment, consider anyone else as PM instead of Modi. Would newspapers be as blind toward another PM’s indifference to a state that continues to burn for 50 days? Modi is travelling, instead, to the UN compound to lead exercises there on World Yoga Day. But no yogic pose exists that can allow Modi to shut his eyes to the deep erosion of the credibility of the Indian State his (in)actions in Manipur have caused," former Indian Army officer Sushant Singh wrote for the Deccan Herald.

"Over 100 people have died, more than 50,000 people have been left without homes, and violence going on for over 50 days. And the Prime Minister could not even speak 'M' of Manipur," said the Congress a day ahead of Yoga Day. "On one hand Manipur is burning and people are appealing to save their lives. People are forced to leave their homes and migrate. On the other hand PM Modi has left for a US visit," they added.

Leaders of ten Opposition parties from Manipur came together to question Modi's silence. Addressing a joint press conference at in New Delhi on Tuesday, June 20, former Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh underscored that Modi had not spared even ten minutes for them before leaving for his US visit.

While the interaction between him and US government officials will encompass the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the exacerbating climate condition, and pressing matters regarding the Indo-Pacific, Modi has so far particularly emphasised the "historic session" which will take place at the UNHQ, claiming that yoga will "eliminate contradictions, blockages and resistances across the globe".

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