AN ADVICE to chant “Om” and a couple of shlokas at the start of yoga exercises on the International Day of Yoga on June 21 has triggered angry reactions from non-BJP parties, which have accused the government of pushing a “sectarian agenda”.
The government has released a Common Yoga Protocol to be followed by the participants on June 21. The protocol says yoga exercises should be preceded by a prayer that begins with the chanting of “Om” three times, and ends with “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”.
A letter from University Grants Commission (UGC) Secretary Jaspal S Sandhu to vice-chancellors of all universities seeking their “personal indulgence” in ensuring “wide participation of students and teachers” makes a mention of the Common Yoga Protocol. The protocol has been made available on websites of the UGC and the Ministry of External Affairs.
The website of International Day of Yoga has a video manual as well. In the video, the prayer starts with “Om” but “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih” is missing.
Even as an official of the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) clarified that participants were not mandated to chant “Om” or the shlokas, political parties reacted strongly.
K C Tyagi of JD(U) said: “I am a Hindu and I follow Vedic traditions. Therefore, I personally have no problem in chanting ‘Om’. But it must not be foisted on people belonging to other faiths. Ours is a secular Constitution. If the BJP wants to push its sectarian agenda, it should declare India a theocratic state.”
Congress spokesperson P C Chacko said the government was using yoga for ulterior motives. “Yoga is an ancient Indian knowledge. It is not a discovery of the BJP government. It has nothing to do with BJP. It should be made acceptable to the general public. Some sections of the people may have reservations in chanting ‘Om’. Some research can be done and ‘Om’ can be replaced with some more acceptable word so that everyone, without any reservation, can practice yoga,” Chacko said.
“But that has not been done. They are propagating yoga with an ulterior motive. Whatever is not acceptable to everyone must not be pushed through. This problem can easily be solved by making some amends,” he said.
Last year, the government had got the UN to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. On that day last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had led the main yoga performance in Delhi. This year, Modi is expected to participate in the celebration in Chandigarh.