India’s PM Narendra Modi to lead yoga class for 45,000

Avid practitioner of discipline to run event in New Delhi for United Nations Yoga Day

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is to lead more than 45,000 people in the heart of the capital New Delhi for a yoga session, to mark the UN’s first International Yoga Day on Sunday.

Senior civil servants, diplomats, military officers, schoolchildren and Indian military cadet corps members will line the nearly 2km Rajpath and over a dozen arterial roads, for the 35-minute yoga session.

Mr Modi (64), an avid yoga practitioner who was instrumental in getting the UN to designate June 21st as International Yoga Day, will perform 15 asanas, or yogic postures. These combine breathing correctly with body movements in an aim for greater stability and mental equilibrium.

Residents of some 178 countries, mostly expatriate Indians, are expected to follow all of Modi’s moves, relayed to them via a massive LED screen.

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To ensure this overseas participation, scores of yoga instructors have been deployed abroad, where Indian missions have been instructed to conduct rehearsals and co-ordinate the main event.

The yoga session will also be replicated in most of India’s provincial capitals, led by regional leaders from Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP.

Hundreds of district BJP units have been asked to observe Yoga Day across the country and tens of thousands of party cadres are expected to participate.

“The PM insists the event, which is being organised on a war footing, makes an impact,” said an official involved in staging the yoga day.

No expense is being spared to ensure its success, he added, though he declined to elaborate on what it is costing.

Mr Modi also wants the occasion recorded in the Guinness World Records as the largest yoga gathering.

Consequently, each participant will be bar-coded and de-coded in keeping with Guinness World Record rules, which require them to arrive at the venue by 4.30am, over two hours before the event.

“Modi, the consummate showman, does nothing by halves and plans to showcase Yoga Day as a personal victory,” said a senior government official, who declined to be named. The prime minister was the ultimate gimmick man, he added.

Several Muslim groups have objected to the yoga session on grounds of it being “un-Islamic”. In response organisers have agreed to drop the Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation posture.

“Surya Namaskar means praying to the sun. The government needs to understand Muslims cannot pray to anybody except Allah or bow before anybody other than him,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and head of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (all India council of the union of Muslims).

Security will be tight, with thousands of Delhi Police and National Security Guard commandoes deployed and snipers posted atop buildings.

Opposition parties accuse Mr Modi of trying to popularise yoga in an attempt to divert attention from the poor state of the economy and unemployment. “All these things are being said to cover up for unfulfilled promises,” said Rahul Gandhi, deputy leader of the main opposition Congress Party, at a rally in Kolkata.