A fresh controversy broke out on Tuesday over the University Grants Commission’s directive asking universities and colleges to follow the Ayush ministry’s yoga protocol that begins with chanting of ‘Om’ and some Sanskrit sholakas during Yoga Day celebrations on June 21.
While Congress criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for being “insensitive”, saying yoga, a great discipline of ancient India, does not belong to the saffron party, Janata Dal-United termed it as yet another attempt to “impose the communal agenda” on Indian masses.
“Yoga is a great knowledge of ancient India. It is not something that belongs to BJP. It should be made more acceptable system for the people to practice...Probably this government is unconcerned about these sensitive aspects,” Congress spokesperson P C Chako said.
Senior JD-U leader K C Tyagi flayed the government, saying “This is again (an attempt) to impose the communal agenda on Indian masses. We are opposed to that. How can you say to a Muslim, Sikh, Christian to say ‘Om’. For me, I am a Hindu and I have no problem, but how can you ask people of other religion (to do it). This is again communalism... the divisive agenda of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. We condemn it.”
In his letter to universities last week, UGC secretary Jaspal S Sandhu had sought the “personal indulgence” of vice chancellors in celebrating yoga day in their varsities as well as affiliated bodies.
“I request you to draw an action plan for International Day of Yoga and also ensure wide participation of students and teachers of your esteemed university in the yoga day celebrations,” the senior UGC official said in his letter along with the Ayush ministry’s 45-minute protocol for practising yoga.
The protocol starts with a two-minute prayer preceded by chants of ‘Om’ and some Sanskrit Shlokas and followed by 18 minutes of yoga postures and pranayam.
As per the protocol, participants would sit in a meditative pose for nine minutes and there would be ‘Shanti Paath’ towards the end.
However, the government and BJP insisted last year’s protocol has been maintained and no changes have been made.
“There is no compulsion to chant ‘Om’,” a senior Ayush ministry official said.
BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said, “There is no compulsion. Some people are linking yoga to religion while it is essentially meant for holistic well being. It should be a matter of pride that the UN celebrates Yoga Day and about 196 countries follow it. The dirty tricks department of the Congress is behind the controversy.”
Rashtriya Janata Dal and Communist Party of India-Marxist also slammed the Modi government, alleging it was adopting a sectarian attitude which was not good.
Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman Manoj Jha said, “In terms of the broad democratic ethos, you cannot force me to do something. If I say I do yoga not because of any other reason (but) simply because I believe in physical activity more and not in chanting ‘Om’, that kind of freedom is in tune with the idea we have seen... We are making nasty compromises on that. These kind of indicators which emanate from the highest office, they unsettle us. That’s a dangerous thing.”
CPI-M leader Brinda Karat said the government has no right to make chanting of ‘Om’ mandatory.
“This is not going to work. They just want to push a very sectarian agenda. Their agenda is known to everybody and that is to try and impose religion and religious belief on other communities or those who are non-believers. Nobody is going to accept this,” she added.
Actor Anupam Kher said the International Yoga Day has brought reputation to India. “It was performed in more than 100 countries. We have given yoga to the world. And ‘Om’ is attached with Yoga. It would be better if it is not made a controversy.”
Last year also, a similar proposal had created a controversy after which a clarification was issued by the Ayush ministry that chanting ‘Om’ was not compulsory.