Modi will start his US visit with yoga on the UN lawn, a wise and symbolic choice for the Indian leader

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — There will be plenty of time to discuss global tensions during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States this week. But he starts his day on Wednesday with a focus on a quest for inner tranquility.

After arriving in New York on Tuesday afternoon and holding private meetings, the leader of the world’s most populous nation kicks off his public program on Wednesday with a group yoga session on the United Nations’ North Lawn.

United Nations General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and many other diplomats and UN officials are expected at the event. It honors International Yoga Day, which Modi persuaded the UN to designate in 2014 as an annual observance.

The yoga-themed visit to the UN is a wise and symbolic choice for a prime minister who has made the ancient discipline both a personal practice and a diplomatic tool. First practiced by Hindu sages, yoga has now become one of India’s most popular cultural exports, and Modi has vigorously promoted it as a — rather literal — means of well-being to extend the influence of the country abroad.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist, presents himself as an ascetic who adheres to his religion’s restrictions on vegetarianism and yoga. He’s posted videos on social media over the years of himself practicing yoga poses (not to mention providing live visuals of himself meditating in a Himalayan mountain cave after the 2019 national elections).

Modi last visited the UN at the 2021 General Assembly, where he said “all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN” and its effectiveness on issues ranging from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism.

He also made a point of emphasizing his country’s place in the international community, noting that “one in six people in the world is Indian”. In the years since his speech, India has overtaken China to claim the world’s largest population, at 1.425 billion.

India has long sought a permanent seat on the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body. India has been elected several times for a two-year seat, most recently for 2021-22.

Modi will travel to Washington later Wednesday for a three-day visit that includes an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden, an address to a joint meeting of Congress, a state dinner at the White House and more. Among the plans: a State Department lunch hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The visit comes as the two countries seek to strengthen their ties.

The United States has looked to India, also the world’s largest democracy, as a key partner on issues such as verifying China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. India, meanwhile, wants to strengthen its military and trade relations with the United States

However, human rights advocates are urging Biden to lobby Modi on human rights issues, both internationally and in India. Modi has been criticized for legislation that fast-tracks citizenship for some migrants but excludes Muslims; an increase in violence against Muslims and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalists; and the recent conviction of India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, for mocking Modi’s surname. (Ghandi recently traveled to the United States himself, speaking to private organizations and university students.)

The Indian government defends its human rights record and insists that the nation’s democratic principles remain unwavering.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.

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