As millions of yoga enthusiasts stretched and twisted their bodies today, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said yoga should not be seen as part of any religious practice while key BJP ally and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar skipped the International Yoga Day event yet again.
Speaking at the state-level celebrations in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayan, a CPI-M veteran, however lauded the greatness and benefits of yoga.
Yoga can be practised by all, irrespective of caste and religion, he said, adding it should be done with a 'free and secular' mind. Vijayan said the LDF government has taken steps to set up a yoga and naturopathy centre of international standards in the state.
Stating that yoga was an exercise and not part of any ritual, Vijayan lamented that attempts were being made by some groups to "hijack" it in the name of religion.
"This kind of false propaganda will only keep common people away from yoga and reduce its popularity," he said.
Terming yoga as a 'good exercise' for the body and mind, the chief minister said, "though there may be many other forms of exercises in the world, there is nothing as good as yoga especially for the mental health and well-being."
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar did not participate in the main Yoga Day event in Patna which set tongues wagging. The event was inaugurated by Governor Satya Pal Malik and attended by top BJP leaders including union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi.
However, both the ruling allies--JD(U) and BJP-- sought to play down the issue.
The JD(U) said Kumar has been practising yoga daily even before it was declared as an International Day by the United Nations in 2015 and "it would be wrong to attach any political meaning to personal decisions."
When asked about Kumar's absence at the event, both Prasad and Modi insisted that what was important was that people practised yoga regularly, wherever they chose, and that the presence or absence of a public figure must not be politicized .
Nitish Kumar, who himself is a regular yoga practitioner and is said to have learnt the ancient practice from noted exponents at the renowned Bihar School of Yoga at Munger, has been critical of the mass yoga drill organized on June 21 every year since 2015.
Speculation was rife that Kumar might take part in the celebrations this year following his return to the BJP-led NDA in August last which he had left in 2013. But, he was conspicuous by his absence at the mega event held at Patliputra sports complex.
We know that Nitish Kumar is a yoga enthusiast. And that is what is important. Please do not politicize the issue , Union Law minister Ravishankar Prasad, who had arrived from New Delhi to attend the celebrations, told reporters in Patna.
Sushil Modi on his part asked, "why do you want to make an issue out of Nitish Kumar's absence?"
"There are many BJP leaders who could not make it to the function. There may be many leaders, not just in JD(U) but even in opposition parties like the RJD, who practice yoga regularly. Would you try to derive a political meaning out of that?
JD(U) spokesman Rajiv Ranjan Prasad said the party leaders including Nitish Kumar begin their day with yoga.
"We did so today also. We have been practicing yoga since much before the International Yoga Day came into being...There is no party stand, as such, with regard to taking part in the celebrations. Hence, it would be wrong to attach any political meaning to personal decisions .
Opposition RJD latched on to Kumar's absence to take a dig at him.
In a statement, RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary said it was "part of the old strategy of Nitish to appear different from his allies and then make a volte face." Tiwary is a former associate of the chief minister.
In Kolkata, BJP national secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya asked by newsmen if there is lack of enthusiasm in celebrating the Yoga day in West Bengal, said it was a matter of regret the Mamata Banerjee government was finding politics in everything.
"Yoga Day is also being celebrated in Islamic countries of the world, but the West Bengal government is politicising everything," he said.