By Vijay Darda | 28-06-2016
On the International Day of Yoga, when millions of people – young and old – twist, bend and stretch themselves into postures it is undoubtedly a victory for the soft power of India’s ancient traditions. As the mover of the resolution in the United Nations that got the record support of 175 countries, prime minister Narendra Modi wrote his name in the annals of history. Speaking on that occasion, he said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action … a holistic approach [that] is valuable to our health and our well-being. Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.” The world agreed. This year the IDY was celebrated in 192 countries.
It is now universally accepted that a sedentary lifestyle is among the top ten leading causes of death worldwide, and a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Yoga is the perfect antidote to such a life style. As the late yoga guru B. K. S. Iyengar said: “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”
Prime minister Modi also practises what he preaches when it comes to Yoga, and is unlike many dignitaries for whom the IDY is just another photo-op. When he takes to the Yoga mat, the prime minister is also suitably dressed for the exercise but we also have the sight of some ministers and celebs performing yoga without care for the basic preparations needed for this activity. However, he needs to take this ancient methodology that has now been accepted as a route to ‘sustainable development goals’ by the United Nations a step further. There is an acute shortage of scientific research based on Yoga and its benefits on health as well as its curative powers. The absence of this research also leads to a scepticism about its benefits. The ‘mystique’ of Yoga has always charmed the people all over the globe, but now it is time when the science of yoga wins over them.
It is quite an uncanny coincidence that at a time when the people across the globe were endorsing India’s ancient contribution of Yoga to the world, there was a successful attempt by some countries to block her entry into the 48-nation atomic trading bloc – the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The NSG is not an international treaty, but a cartel of nuclear equipment and material suppliers that sets its own rules and amends them through consensus among its 48 members. The irony is that it was China who refused to support India’s case on the grounds that it was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Now the world knows that the Chinese themselves have broken all the rules; aided Pakistan with nuclear materials, design and testing; cocked a snook at the NSG by supplying allegedly grandfathered nuclear reactors to Pakistan and protected North Korea and yet it wants to deny India its just place in the world order. President Xi Jinping almost ruthlessly ignored prime minister Modi’s appeal for ‘a fair and objective assessment’ of India’s application.
Of course, the prime minister and the diplomatic establishment have come in for a fair bit of criticism of their handling of this issue, but the blame is not entirely theirs. To the extent that it is a loss of face for the country, they are to blame, but in so far as the causes are concerned we have to look deeper. India’s membership of the NSG is all about power politics on the global stage and the NPT is being used as a fig leaf in this game. After all the fact is that after the 2008 waiver from the NSG that facilitated the signing of the India-America civil nuclear deal, there is no bar on India’s nuclear trade. But then as the union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj put it the difference is “between being in room, and sitting outside it.” The problem with China and other opponents of India’s claim is that they do not want to let India in the room.
Critics of the Modi government refer to the 2008 situation when drawing a parallel with this setback. But there is a crucial difference. At that time, America was pushing for India as it wanted the civil nuclear deal to go through. This time there were no such motivations for Washington, and India was virtually left to fend for itself. It is a matter of common knowledge that an outsider can enter a club, only when a member makes a determined push that is strong enough to override all objections.
As usual Pakistan enjoyed playing the spoil sport, and relished the outcome as it had thwarted India’s bid. But the joy at other’s discomfort is always short-lived. It is certain that when it comes to the right credentials for the NSG membership, Pakistan is still miles away. China may block India due to the factors of regional rivalries, but then it is also known to Beijing that such stalling tactics can work only up to a point. Sooner rather than later, through some give and take, Beijing would have to drop its opposition to India on the NSG question and that time may come by the end of the year.
Even otherwise, India’s nuclear journey has not been a smooth ride. It is worth recalling that when the 2008 India-America civil nuclear deal was signed, the then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh had to face a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha that almost threatened the survival of his government. But then it won the vote of confidence, and also went on to win another five-year term in 2009. In that sense it is a relief that the setback for the Modi government at the NSG has no domestic political implications.
Before I conclude…
The divide in Britain over the issue of exiting the European Union has exposed the perils of the referendum route in a democracy. After the “leave” vote, it emerges that people seem to be choosing wisely when it comes to electing leaders, but they seem to be missing the plot when they are asked to decide issues that should best be decided by politicians. But having decided to walk out of the EU, the Britishers must now prepare to live a life out of this divorce and not keep regretting the decision.