Soft Power and Biopower: Narendra Modi’s “Double Discourse” Concerning Yoga for Climate Change and Self-Care


In this article, I will elucidate the Indian government’s two primary discourses concerning yoga since 2014 as right-wing Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu Nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have interacted with both international and domestic audiences. These discourses can be broadly grouped into two categories, or what I refer to as Modi and the BJP’s “double discourse”: (1) Yoga as a global soft power solution to counter the Global North’s climate change privilege on the international stage and (2) Yoga as biopower for the advancement of India’s depressed economy on the domestic front. Relying on yoga’s polyvalent character, Modi and the BJP are able to frame yoga in these two particular ways—which together signal their commitment to neoliberal economic ideology—by drawing from historical and contemporaneous precedents which I also outline in the article. I conclude with a brief visit to the preparations for the BJP’s 2019 International Day of Yoga, where this double discourse becomes most evident in the two divergent themes announced for the event.

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  1. 1.

    From a political standpoint, Joseph Nye describes soft power as follows: “A state may achieve the outcomes it prefers in world politics because other states want to follow it or have agreed to a situation that produces such effects. In this sense, it is just as important to set the agenda and structure the situations in world politics as to get others to change in particular cases. This second aspect of power - which occurs when one country gets other countries to want what it wants - might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants” (1990, p. 166).

  2. 2.

    Foucault describes biopower as the “numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations” and the “power over life” that was without question an indispensable element in the development of capitalism; the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes” (1990, p. 140).

  3. 3.

    In a letter to Harrison Blake, Thoreau once wrote, “To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi” (Sanborn 1906).

  4. 4.

    Of all the world nations, the USA has produced the most global climate emissions. See, for example, (Gillis and Popovich 2017)


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The author would like to thank the anonymous peer reviewers who provided valuable feedback during the initial stages of writing this article.

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Miller, C.P. Soft Power and Biopower: Narendra Modi’s “Double Discourse” Concerning Yoga for Climate Change and Self-Care. DHARM 3, 93–106 (2020).

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  • Yoga
  • Modern yoga
  • Yoga and politics
  • Yoga and biopolitics
  • Yoga and soft power
  • Yoga and ecology
  • Yoga and climate change
  • Narendra Modi yoga
  • Hindu nationalism