Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, delivers an opening statement on adoption of draft Resolution A/69/L.17 calling June 21 to be the "International Day of Yoga" on December 11. (Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment)
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 27, spoke of an International Yoga Day, sitting in the visitors’ gallery I wrote on a scrap of paper “This will go through.”
In less than three months since the United Nations has indeed declared June 21 to be the International Day of Yoga on a resolution moved by the Indian delegation. It is remarkable that 175 countries supported the Resolution A/69/L.17 that was moved by India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji. The resolution was adopted on December 11 which by the standards of the UN time is lightening fast.
It is as much a triumph for Prime Minister Modi as it is for the diplomatic skills of the Permanent Mission of India. I knew I could bank upon dear friend and photojournalist Jay Mandal to supply me with a couple of photographs from the session that adopted the resolution.
Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment
The choice of June 21 seemed deliberate since it has the longest daylight hours in the northern hemisphere. It would be logical that the southern hemisphere would have the fewest daylight hours that day.
I had acknowledged during my reporting then that Modi’s UN speech was both sweeping and specific, one of the specifics being the world yoga day. “We need to change our lifestyles. Energy not consumed is the cleanest energy. We can achieve the same level of development, prosperity and well-being without necessarily going down the path of reckless consumption. It doesn't mean that economies will suffer; it will mean that our economies will take on a different character. For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature's bounties as sacred.Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day,” the prime minister had said.
In moving the resolution Mukerji said, “It is a matter of great satisfaction to all of us in this Assembly that today, less than 90 days after the proposal for an International Yoga Day was made, we have the honor to introduce before you a very forward looking, simple, yet substantive, draft Resolution calling for establishing the International Day of Yoga.”
The resolution was finalized after just two rounds of informal consultations with all member states. “The Resolution fully addresses the concern of some of our colleagues, notably from the European Union, that this proposal does not entail any additional budgetary implications for the UN system. All activities held in connection with this Day would be resourced solely through voluntary contributions,” Mukerji said.
Sam K. Kutesa, president of the 69th session of the UNGA said, “Today’s adoption of a resolution on the International Day of Yoga with overwhelming support, as shown by the more than 170 member States that have co-sponsored it, demonstrates how both the tangible and the unseen benefits of yoga appeal to people around the world.
For centuries, people from all walks of life have practiced yoga, recognizing its unique embodiment of unity between mind and body. Yoga brings thought and action together in harmony, while demonstrating a holistic approach to health and well-being.”
I was going through the list of 175 countries that co-sponsored the resolution and found that Saudi Arabia was missing from it, which was no surprise. However, what was more heartening was that major Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates were among the co-sponsors. Evidently, they could make a distinction between Yoga and Hinduism.