Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement on the occasion of International Day of Yoga on June 21 that "Yoga is not a religious activity" was significant. There is some truth in his statement but at the same time, it also underlines the socio-political significance of Yoga in today's India---which is a vastly changed one from that of the Nehruvian days. [In pics: How the world celebrated the International Yoga Day]The BJP, which is dominating force in Indian politics today (speaking in terms of the spirit and not vote-share) just like the Congress had during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, is, as we know, a soft project of the Hindutva school of thought.
Yoga is an effective soft socio-political strategy to cement base
Given the country's reality on the ground, it is impossible for the BJP to implement a hard strategy of social engineering and whatever its affiliated hardliner saffron bodies feel about building up a homogenous Hindu Bharat, the rhetorics will not achieve much beyond the polarisation in times of elections. Therefore, there is a necessity to resort to a Plan B to reach out to the soul of India and that is possible only through a softer socio-political strategy. [From Australia to US, Yoga unifies all]
The classical form of Hinduism, which is the main vehicle for the saffron political camp to reach its goals in India, underwent modifications in the 19th and 20th centuries, thanks to efforts by moderate Western scholars, rise of Hindu reform movements and various currents and cross currents and contributions made by socio-religious bodies and sects, paving way for the rise of a new form of Hinduism.
New Hinduism is a saleable commodity in India of 21st century dominated by a booming middle class
The centres of politico-social power and influence today have found this new variety of Hinduism more saleable in the 21st century India for its booming middle class, which is reaping the benefits of the liberalisation policy initiated 25 years ago, readily accepts this variety owing to its less obscurantist nature and respectability across the world (Yoga for example).
The new version of Hinduism (a Sanskritik one) is being seen as a matter of ideology more than a faith and understanding that the middle class is happy to align itself with this ideology to assert its identity and voice the world over, the saffron political leadership of the day found it easy to strive for its own goal of a modified Hindu nation if not an exclusivist one. [Armymen perform Yoga at Siachen]
Yoga has given Modi a magic wand to connect to Indians, both in India and abroad
Agents of new Hinduism need to update their methods of propaganda and Yoga offers a perfect solution to reach out to the young, educated middle-class
Other methods to achieve a Hindu nation like by highlighting the selective history of 'oppressive' Muslim rule or by immortalising past warriors like Rana Pratap and Shivaji are also in practice but they might not be as effective to influence the middle-class the stature of which is ever growing. There was hence a need for a fresh new bridge to connect with that constituency which is dominated by the urbane, youth and educated and the perfect solution was found in Yoga (Ayurveda, meditation, women-centric schemes being some others). [How Modi obliges all with selfies on International Yoga Day]
West co-exists with East: The irony of India's middle-class
The growing popularity of remedies like Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation as is being seen today can also be attributed to the fact that the pioneers and practitioners of the new version of Hinduism did not take the pain to offer any critique of science and technology even while propagating yoga, meditation or for that matter Jyotish (astrology). The Hindu middle class readily learned the lessons since there was no contradiction and need to engage in any critical analysis like Gandhi had done while emphasising on spiritual Hinduism.The irony of the accepting both western expertise and technological advancement and Hindu 'heritage' was nicely managed by the aspiring middle-class and Modi grabbed it best than anybody else, even better than the great Vajpayee.
The middle-class's pressure is so huge that even non-BJP parties and leaders are forced to perform Yoga as a political statement
The presence of the middle class, both in the country and the world, has become so overwhelming today that even politically exclusivist and authoritarian agenda looks an inclusive one. The country-wide and worldwide obsession with Yoga on June 21 proved this point. The occasion serves as one where Modi successfully merges his domestic and foreign policies and reap the maximum benefit.
There might still be people who refuse to join the Yoga day celebrations considering it to be a political gimmick, but they are far and too few. Once the dominating section of the middle-class accepts it, then even anti-BJP political camps have to follow suit. Or else, they will lose out in the race against Modi.
Modi symbolises the powerful middle-class of today
Narendra Modi symbolises the new aggressive and ambitious force called the middle-class. It loves things that are western but yet doesn't forget its identity and prefers to flex muscle against even the biggest of enemies---in terms of money or missiles. Yoga is just a softer side of this mammoth called the middle class and for Modi, who is riding this giant, nothing else can offer him a better chance to bring the country closer and assess the depth of the popularity of his leadership.