Actor Bipasha Basu, yoga guru Vachananda Swami, Union ministers Ananth Kumar and D. V. Sadananda Gowda, and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah (sitting) at a yoga session in Bengaluru to celebrate International Yoga Day. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Actor Bipasha Basu, yoga guru Vachananda Swami, Union ministers Ananth Kumar and D. V. Sadananda Gowda, and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah (sitting) at a yoga session in Bengaluru to celebrate International Yoga Day. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

How well-funded is Modi’s yoga mission?

In absolute terms, yoga still has the lowest spending among alternative medicinal forms, according to AYUSH ministry figures. But actual spending might be more

New Delhi: After getting the United Nations to declare 21 June as international yoga day last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is continuing with its push to promote the part-spiritual, part-physical exercise form.

In Chandigarh, prime minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced two awards, one national and one international, for those popularizing yoga. The government is doing all asanas to promote yoga it seems. But is there enough ballast for this push in terms of government funding to promote yoga?

A Plain Facts piece published Tuesday has analysed the ministry of AYUSH spending on yoga. Ministerial spending on yoga, siddha and naturopathy increased by almost 2.5 times between FY15 and FY16, the highest proportionate increase among the four medicinal forms (the other three are Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani systems) under the ministry of AYUSH. However, in absolute terms, yoga still has the lowest spending.

However, that alone may not reveal the complete picture.

The government might be spending more on yoga than is revealed by the ministry of AYUSH figures. For example, the human resource ministry announced last week that yoga courses would be started in at least six central universities and the number would be increased to 20 within a year. Running full-fledged departments in 20 central universities would probably entail a greater annual cost than the 20 crore increase for yoga under the ministry of AYUSH in this year’s budget. If even NDA governments in states were to follow similar policies in state universities, government funding other than through non-AYUSH ministry could see a further jump.

Secondly, there is another factor which might be playing a role in the relatively low focus on government funding for yoga in the country. A previous Plain Facts piece had shown that a media campaign was far more effective in promoting yoga than providing for government hospitals or even private practitioners. Read this in the context of an advertisement blitzkrieg by the government in the run-up to the international yoga day. Once again, since almost all government departments have joined the campaign, spending by the ministry of AYUSH might not capture the government effort towards this.

Also, yoga is more popular among the relatively better-off and well-educated sections of the population, which is likely to be less dependent on government initiatives to provide facilities. Given these facts, the government’s high-decibel campaign might actually be the right strategy for promoting yoga.

The industry seems to believe this at least. Lobby group ASSOCHAM has estimated that the current spend on yoga-related merchandise might be to the tune of about 1 trillion in the country. The wisdom of seeing business opportunities in yoga might have come from the west to the east, even though the original form has traversed in the opposite direction.

An article published in the Huffington Post in 2013 describes the radical transformation of the yoga industry in the US. From the 1970s when few could distinguish between yoga and yoghurt – as an Indian who opened a yoga studio in New York in 1971 puts it – yoga now has more than 20 million practitioners and fuels a $27 billion industry. The beginning of business yoga is well under way in India. Baba Ramdev who is giving large FMCG companies a run for their money, found his first business calling in promoting yoga through the Aastha television channel. His yoga camps charge a fee of 1,000-2,000 per day, as reported by this paper.

Narendra Modi has appealed to the nation to focus on mitigating diabetes through yoga this year. It remains to be seen how many Indians can follow the strict discipline and perseverance required to reap such benefits of yoga. Those in the yoga business would not mind the sugar-coated revenues yoga’s growing popularity would bring in. No wonder Baba Ramdev was dancing to his heart’s content in this mock drill before the yoga day programme on Rajpath.