NEW DELHI — I'm convinced Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I have one thing in common: We both practice our version of yoga regularly and desperately want to be yogis. Sure, the prime minister encouraged the United Nations to declare June 21 as International Yoga Day and millions of Indians watch videos of Modi's animated self perfectly executing various asanas, while I haven't even managed to convince my husband to join me in a surya namaskar (sun salutation).
Still, I believe Modi and I are kindred yoga spirits.
After perusing many videos and images of the prime minister doing yoga these past few years, I'm convinced we have the same favorite asanas (all beginner level – though who knows, he might show us a few new moves today). Like the prime minister, I can hold the thunderbolt pose or vajrasana as long as you need me to, though the prime minister is always better accessorized than me when he sits on his knees (in all white with an Indian tricolor scarf). From here we can fall back and execute a fairly competent supta vajrasana, but when we try a forward bend from this position, our bodies invariably lift off our heels of their own accord.
We both do the lotus pose or padmasana — though frankly, between you and me, we prefer the half padmasana. Why cross your legs and place both feet on both thighs when you can close your eyes and look equally meditative with half the effort?
The prime minister and I struggle at the finish line
Modi and I both find it easy enough to go from the mountain pose or tadasana to the tree pose or vriksasana where we stand on one leg and raise our hands high over our head. This looks great in pictures too, and makes viewers believe we really know what we are doing.
I once executed this pose on a big rock near the edge of a cliff in the hill station of Matheran. My cousin, an ace photographer, ensured he positioned me so the setting sun fit perfectly between my raised arms.
The prime minister and I struggle at the finish line in the spinal twist pose of ardha matsyendrasana (how on earth do people look all the way back there?); and our knees rarely touch the ground when we do the butterfly pose or the baddha konasana.
Modi (center) on International Day of Yoga — Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons
My ability to bend forward is impeded by my extremely stiff hamstring muscles and after years of practicing yoga, I am still unable to touch my toes. My forehead has never made contact with my knees. Now that I think about it, have you ever seen the prime minister touch his toes?
The similarities go beyond favorite asanas. I'm convinced the prime minister and I both have body issues. Mine would require a separate column to discuss and as far as the prime minister goes, there are enough clues in the public domain. As any woman will tell you, wearing all black when you exercise – as the prime minister did in the slickly choreographed exercise and yoga video he released one year ago that became the source of countless memes – serves one purpose only. When Modi visited the Guruvayur Temple earlier this month, he sidestepped the bare chest (with a towel-if-you-must) dress code for men and wrapped his upper torso in yards of fabric.
The prime minister's animated videos show a taller, fitter, younger, more muscular version of himself. His "improved" alter ego executes difficult asanas easily and with perfect posture.
Both the prime minister and I would do well to learn a lesson or two about body positivity from Dolly Singh, a plus-sized Mumbai woman who started practicing yoga a few years ago and whose spectacular yoga videos feature her real, unfiltered self. Check her out on her Instagram account Yogaforall.
The prime minister and I are both surrounded by more accomplished practitioners. Modi has a saffron-clad younger colleague who once said that those who want to avoid yoga should leave India; I have a same-age pal whose display picture shows her executing the perfect crow or kākāsana pose. Though Modi's colleague has the title of yogi, my friend could pip his moves any day.
A taller, fitter, younger, more muscular version of himself.
My yoga ideal is any woman, above the age of 60, who breezes through her daily quota of surya namaskars. The prime minister's idol? I would guess it's his close acquaintance, Baba Ramdev. In one video posted on YouTube, Ramdev accepts a dance challenge from actor Ranveer Singh at an Aaj Tak event. His accelerated "surya namaskar dance" is followed in quick succession by handstands, lunges, the scorpion pose and headstand – after which Ramdev flings Singh over his shoulder and twirls him around easily.
If the prime minister didn't have the habit of making himself the face of every idea his government generates, he could have nominated a real yoga professional to execute his asana videos.
Still need more similarities to be convinced? No aerial yoga, equine yoga or cannabis yoga for us. The prime minister and I like our yoga old-fashioned and handed down to us from the pre-Vedic age. Both of us wouldn't bat an eyelid if yoga was declared compulsory in schools.
Finally, you've seen that black-and-white picture of a former prime minister doing a headstand on a lawn, clad only in a pair of shorts? Yes, you guessed right: Both the prime minister and I envy Jawaharlal Nehru.
The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.
This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.
In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.
The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.
A popular uprising may be inevitable
The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?
Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.
But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.
Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.
For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.
Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.
A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.
File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020
Generals in suits
Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.
This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.
Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.
Demands of the revolution
The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.
First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.
Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.
The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.
Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.
Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.
The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.
Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.
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