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Celebration of nation’s soft power status

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Yoga is not just a means to keep the body and mind fit but it is also a recognition of the country’s rich heritage. For some strange reason, Governments in the past were reluctant to acknowledge the reality

The celebration of International Day of Yoga by the NDA Government has garnered justified adulation from both the domestic media and the public at large. Different political and religious groups in India have tried to have their own interpretations on the celebrations, and indeed some have connected it directly with religious and secularistic rights enshrined in the  Indian democracy.

While that can surely be a point of discussion, the main issue worth deliberating is whether celebrating the International Day of Yoga (by a record-breaking numbers) is just any other event or does it really have a greater significance for the entire nation? And whether it needs to be purely interpreted on religious or ideological grounds or does it have a greater relevance in the larger scheme of things?

A small backgrounder on the matter will enumerate the pursuant role of this happening.Any expert or commentator on geo-political affairs will vouch for the fact that in the present times, soft power of any nation plays an important role in its relevant position on the geo-political platform. Soft power has a much larger impact on the geo-political affairs than the hard powers of any nation. And countries today try to find ways to increment their relevance through the usage of this power.

The greatest success of this can be seen in the case of the US, which effectively assimilated its geo-political aspirations with its soft power of Hollywood — American multinational corporations, business and political strategies in creating the aspirational and rather endemic — The American Dream.

However, ever since independence, (barring a few instances) India has always played a second or a third fiddle in the global scheme of things. This, despite the fact that at every given point of time, it had the position and reason (due to its geographical location and population) to remain at a position of influence in the geo-political affairs. Much of this can be attributed to India’s lack of political will and its reluctance to project its considerable soft power.

Soft power was never considered an an important aspect of the Indian geo-political strategy, and successive Governments since independence have wilfully remained indifferent towards it. This not only curtailed wider knowledge about India but also stunted India’s position globally.However, there was an interesting development that started during the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. While the Governments of the day were complacent and indifferent, the world started to take notice of something that was indeed marvellous about India.

It was the intermingling of the Western and Eastern civilisations, steered by yoga gurus like BKS Iyengar. The world got exposed to one of the finest practices ever known to humans. This was yoga.  But it remained confined to a select few. Yoga soon caught the Western fancy like never before, transcending itself into a billion-dollar phenomenon.Due to its ease, calming effect and connect, the practice took the entire world by storm. Yoga studios started sprouting like mushrooms and in many cities in the US today, one can find yoga studios imparting different forms of the art at every nook and corner. They are visited by people of every religion and colour.

People who have never heard of India (due to the nation’s so far indifferent desire to make itself a serious geo-political player) now at least know that their favourite yoga indeed originated in the nation which boasts of the oldest surviving civilisation and tradition. Yoga festivals, yoga retreats and mass yogas for peace and prosperity now form an integral part of many US cities. Places like the Bay Area on the West Coast and Boulder (Colorado) boasts as destinations for yoga.

Annually, a number of people gather on the New York Times Square to take part in the community yoga. The yoga trend was not just confined to the US but it spread across the globe to the shores of Europe, Japan and virtually every country. Western nations and their policymakers sensed this as a new method to connect with their own masses.

What’s important here is to state that all of this happened albeit the indifference of the then Indian Government or its leadership which kept ignoring this powerful soft power vested in their hands to reach the global audience and thereby enhance the nation’s influence.Members of the global Indian community themselves didn’t envisage if they could indeed use this soft power to increase their own relevance in their own places of  work or residence.

The announcement of celebrations of International Day of Yoga indeed shredded that much needed hibernation from the slumber of previous Indian in recognising the importance of this soft power. The announcement itself seems to have caught the fancy of the Indian diaspora that has announced similar events across the globe, spanning from shores of the West to the Eastern hemisphere.

But much more than the events themselves, the celebrations reflect a changing stance of India on the geo-political front and its assertion on laying claim to a larger scheme of things in the global affairs, which, it seemed, was fast losing.Such an approach indeed moves far beyond the issues of region, caste or creed but reiterates the common heritage of India of which we all are a part. It sends a message of unity to the global audience. It reiterates the very essence of the word ‘yoga’, which in itself means combining and assimilation.

(The writer is a US-based geo-political, economic and public policy expert)

 
 
 
 
 
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