Political circles are abuzz following a circular issued by the AYUSH ministry, which spells out directions for the World Yoga Day on June 21, reported The Indian Express. According to the Common Yoga Protocol, yoga exercises must start with Om, to be chanted three times, and end with “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”. The University Grants Commission has also issued notices to all school and colleges regarding the day's events and directives to ensure maximum participation. The notice, among other things, mentions this protocol.
Political rivals wasted no time in pouncing on the circular and the notices, crying religious discrimination, but the ministry clarified that the protocol is not compulsory, NDTV reported, quoting IANS. "There is no compulsion to chant 'Om' before the yoga session. It is completely voluntary and one can remain silent. No one will object," joint secretary Anil Kumar Ganeriwala said on Tuesday.
Opposition parties took the opportunity to criticise the Narendra Modi government. The Congress said that the BJP led government at the Centre was using yoga for ulterior motives. “Yoga is an ancient Indian knowledge. It is not a discovery of the BJP government. It has nothing to do with BJP. It should be made acceptable to the general public. Some sections of the people may have reservations in chanting ‘Om’. Some research can be done and ‘Om’ can be replaced with some more acceptable word so that everyone, without any reservation, can practice yoga,” Party spokesperson PC Chacko said.
The Janata Dal (United) also joined the chorus, with senior leader KC Tyagi saying, “I am a Hindu and I follow Vedic traditions. Therefore, I personally have no problem in chanting ‘Om’. But it must not be foisted on people belonging to other faiths. Ours is a secular Constitution. If the BJP wants to push its sectarian agenda, it should declare India a theocratic state.”