New Delhi: Over 47 Muslim-majority countries have supported the International Day of Yoga, yet some Indian communities, including sections of Muslims, are opposing it, Shripad Yesso Naik, the minister of state for yoga and traditional medicine, has said.
"Over 47 Arab countries have not only supported the event but have also become partners. All the countries abroad want to help us with the event while Indian communities want to oppose it," Naik told IANS in an interview ahead of the International Day of Yoga on June 21.
"We have requested all Indian communities to support the cause and not politicise it," the minister added.
Rebutting as baseless the allegations that the International Day of Yoga is meant to spread the Hindutva agenda, Naik said one of its elements, the 'surya namaskar' (yogic postures for prayers to the sun) has been taken out of the day's activities.
The ministry has received objections from the Muslim leaders that surya namaskar required everyone to pray to the sun, while Muslims were allowed to pray only to Allah.
"We do not want any controversy over surya namaskar. There is no compulsion to chant any prayer and if people do not wish to say 'om' they can chant 'Allah'," Naik said, adding that the leaders have extended their support after a meeting with him.
"Yoga is a Indian identity. We have every need to celebrate it. Through this celebration we aim to reach out to every nook and corner of the world and spread the benefits of yoga," Naik said.
"Our aim is to unite the people for a better world," he added.
The UN had declared June 21 as the International Day of Yoga on the suggesion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address at the 69th General Assembly session last September. The resolution received support from 177 countries on the spot and from few which had joined later, making it perhaps, the biggest resolution in history, Naik said.
Naik's ministry, as also the external affairs ministry, have been tasked with organizing the first International Day of Yoga in India and abroad, with the activities expected to be held across 193 countries.
The event in India, which involves a budget of over Rs. 30 crores ($4.5 million), is expected to see more than 35,000 people performing yoga at Rajpath along with millions of people from across the world also performing in their countries.
The prime minister, other government ministers and officials, as also foreign delegations are expected to be present for the event.
Over 100 yoga training centres have been opened ahead of of the International Day of Yoga, apart from over 560 centres in each district of the country.
The ministry also aims for a place in the Guinness World Records for the largest yoga congregation, the minister added. The current record is held by Gwalior's Vivekanand Kendra, where 29,773 people simultaneously performed yoga.
Naik also refuted the Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi's remarks that the International Day of Yoga is just a "photo opportunity"'.
Naik said, “(Congress vice president) Rahul Gandhi's act of visiting a hut and having a meal – that was a photo opportunity,” he retorted
The 62-year-old minister said yoga has been a part of his everyday schedule for the past three decades. "It feels like I have missed something if I don't do my yoga for a day," Naik added with a laugh.
The ministry plans to set up a yoga Institute in the near future, Naik said, adding that the government should give a thought to introducing it in schools as well, although not as a compulsion.
(Bhavana Akella can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)