It is not just about ideological posturing and anti-government agitations. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has decided to promote yoga to prevent it from being hijacked by the Sangh Parivar, says the party’s Kerala unit.

It broadcast the message loud and clear on Sunday, when 1,200 trained volunteers showcased their expertise in yoga at the Jawahar Stadium in Kannur, in North Kerala, under the watchful eyes of state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan, and Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan.

The event was quite different from the International Yoga Day Celebration organised by the Narendra Modi government on June 21 on New Delhi's Rajpath.

The Jawahar stadium did not reverberate with “Om” chants. Clad in white robes, the yoga practitioners went through their paces on red mats, with the accompanied by mellifluous music.

The event, organised under the aegis of a CPI (M)-supported outfit, Indian Martial Arts Academy and Yoga Study Centre, assumes significance as Kerala will witness a tough electoral battle for the State Assembly in four months. The CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front, which aims to wrest power from incumbent Congress-led United Democratic Front, fears that the BJP will attempt to use Hindutva as a strategy to gain its first seats in the Assembly.

CPI (M) leaders made their intentions about the yoga event clear when they selected Kannur as the venue, the hotbed of political clashes between CPI (M) and BJP cadres. “The CPI (M) supports yoga training as some communal outfits are trying to misappropriate it,” said district secretary P Jayarajan.

This isn’t the first time the CPI (M) has promoted sports and games in the state: it started this several years ago when the RSS began to establish shakhas in its strongholds in North Kerala.

Dr K Rajagopalan, a yoga teacher and office-bearer of the Indian Martial Arts Academy and Yoga Study Centre, said the organisation had kick-started its activities many months before BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to use yoga as part of their publicity strategy. “IMAAYSC was registered in Kannur in 2014 with an aim to teach yoga and other martial arts,” Rajagopalan said. “Our volunteers underwent a four-month training programme. They would now train people from other clubs and associations all over Kerala. We hope to eradicate lifestyle diseases from all villages.”

He said the organisation set up a faculty of five members to formulate a syllabus for the programme. “After careful consideration, we adopted 30 postures and fivepPranayamas which would help youngsters get rid of bad habits and gain concentration,” he said.

Rajagopalan also explained why participants avoided the “Om” chant? “Some people do not want to chant ‘Om’ owing to religious reasons,” he said. “We do not want impose anything on them. Yoga is something that can be done without chanting ‘Om’.”

K Venu, political and social activist, feels that with the elections approaching, the CPI (M) is using yoga in an attempt to retain its control over various sections of the Hindu community. “Sangh Parivar outfits are gaining control over backward and Dalit communities in Hindu society,” he said. “It obviously frustrates the party and that is why the leaders are coming up with events like this.”