Narendra Modi doing yoga
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi doing yoga. Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Indian politics is undergoing an image makeover. The age-old stereotype of the potbellied, white-kurta-wearing minister is fast fading. Along with exercising their oratory skills and promoting the party’s agenda on public platforms, politicians across the spectrum are training to stay fit.

Many leaders are now younger, fitter and more fashion-conscious than ever before. And while earlier, only members of the show business shared their workout regime or diet habits, it’s an extraordinary spectacle to now see the politicians coming out as fitness enthusiasts and inspiring commoners to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Putting forth the common vision of a fit India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was instrumental in making a major event out of it. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader first mooted the idea of a day dedicated to yoga during his speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2014. Ever since, June 21 is celebrated around the world as International Day of Yoga.

Leading from the front, it is because of certain political heavyweights, including the PM, that other politicians no more shy away from sharing their fitness regimen on social media platforms by uploading their photos and videos or posing for photographs while exercising. A case in point is BJP leader and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, 46, who was seen performing yoga with Baba Ramdev at a training camp in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

While Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party leader Chandrababu Naidu, 69, also practices a bit of yoga, he is as keen on walking and cycling to stay fit.

Rahul Gandhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi attends a martial arts training session. He holds a black belt in the martial art form Aikido.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M K Stalin, 66, is no exception. He was featured in a video titled ‘Never Give Up’ and seen pulling off dumbbell workout and other exercises at the gym.

Commenting on the demanding schedule of politicians, especially during polls, Dr Vipin Gupta said, “Fitness and proper nutrition are extremely important for leaders to maintain a healthy lifestyle as they go campaigning in different states and constituencies, making both timings and locations unpredictable.”

Close aides of politicians revealed that irrespective of whatever time they sleep during the night at the time of polls, leaders wake up early and perform whatever exercises they can. “Light meals apart, buttermilk, coconut water and fresh fruit juices are taken after short intervals to stay hydrated,” they said.

Probably the answer lies in her physical fitness levels that West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee keeps up a super hectic schedule, which requires her to not only stand for long hours, but also deliver some hard hitting and high octane speeches. Banerjee, 63, is known for using the treadmill regularly every morning. During her long walks, others are often unable to match up with her pace.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari, 53, is another fitness enthusiast who undertakes long walks, does cycling and to beat the heat outside, heads to a gym to do some weight training.

The fitness craze has caught on even with Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, 69, who is known to play badminton with his staff at home. Similarly, federal home minister and BJP leader Rajnath Singh, 67, reportedly, loves to work out at home. Apart from yoga exercises, he takes a 20-minutes walk twice a day that allows him to ignore the dietary restrictions usually associated with fit lifestyle.

Federal Human Resource Development Minister and BJP leader Prakash Javadekar, 68, too is a disciplinarian and an ardent believer in the benefits of yoga and walks.

“While exercises and walks are a must in today’s lifestyle, genetics also play a significant role and contribute to a person’s muscular power,” Dr Gupta maintains.

A prime example could be BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Winner of ‘Delhi’s Most Stylish Award 2015’, Rudy, 57, probably gets the most envious looks from leaders of his ilk for being the fittest of them all, despite not being a gym person.

A trained pilot, at 26, Rudy became the youngest member of the Legislative Assembly in Bihar in 1990. The former aviation minister has made efforts to retain his pilot’s license by continuing to clear written and vocational exams along with regular health tests and getting into the cockpit to log his hours. Perhaps, in his case, home-cooked food and his interest in badminton and swimming does the trick!

Fitness trainer Dalip Singh states, “The younger generation is moving towards personalized nutrition to achieve better results. Not only do they believe in eating right, but also exercise and take health supplements to maintain their fitness levels.”

So, whether it is making time for a run early in the morning or practicing yoga, politicians are giving priority to keeping fit and raising their endurance level.

Members of the fitness club!

Narendra Modi, 68:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

He incorporates the holistic benefits of the ancient Indian practice of yoga in his daily life. In a two-minute video posted on Twitter, he revealed his daily fitness regimen. “Apart from yoga, I walk on a track inspired by the Panchatatavas or five elements of nature – prithvi [earth], jal [water], agni [fire], vayu [air] and aakash [sky],” he said, referring to a part of the video in which he is seen walking on different surfaces such as grass, rocks, water and sand. “This is extremely refreshing and rejuvenating,” PM Modi said. The BJP leader also lives a disciplined life and keeps control over his eating habits.

Rahul Gandhi, 48:

Rahul Gandhi in dubai

He is a classic example of a person who can give a complex to many of his own party leaders. The Congress president maintains a rigorous and regular workout schedule, which includes running, swimming and doing yoga. A health and fitness freak, apart from hitting the gym regularly, he holds a black belt in the martial art form Aikido.

Anurag Thakur, 44:

Anurag Thakur

He is a commissioned officer in the Territorial Army (TA) and undergoes an annual training regime. Representing Himachal Pradesh, the BJP leader is an ardent sports lover and plays badminton and cricket. However, during polls, his schedule changes. Thakur says, “In the hilly terrain, with more than 5000 villages and 800 councils in my parliamentary constituency, travelling takes a lot of time and I try to cover several areas on foot. My political programmes begin at 8am and with over 10-15 public meetings to attend in a day, my vehicle works as a dining room! To remain active and energetic, my staff and I usually have fruits, dry fruits, roasted grams and jaggery. Traditionally, people here are very warm and locals often invite us for Himachali dham [traditional food]. This way, we are mostly eating home-cooked food. Also, since dham is eaten sitting on the floor, as per Ayurveda, it is as good as doing yoga!”

Asaduddin Owaisi, 49:

Asaduddin Owaisi

Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen believes that irrespective of the profession one is in, every person should aim to keep fit. He informs, “Earlier, I was more into weight-training, but now it’s long walks for me. I also do kettle bell workouts that help total body toning and increases cardiovascular fitness. I find it much easier, as I don’t have to go to a gym and can exercise at home 3-4 days in a week. I eat everything and just control myself from gorging on sweets.”

Jyotiraditya Scindia, 48:

Jyotiraditya Scindia

Scindia, an MP from Guna, Madhya Pradesh, takes his health and fitness very seriously. He says, “I believe, a sharp mind resides in a fit body. Given the long days in the political field, with meetings that often run from early morning till late into the night, I am particularly careful about my diet. When in Delhi, I make it a point to hit the gym for at least an hour during the day. And while on tour, I often add marathons and cricket matches to my schedule. It’s a great way to engage with the youth and encourage them to maintain a fitness regime; at the same time, I get a work out for myself. Whenever I get the opportunity, I enjoy a badminton game with my daughter or throw in a push-ups challenge at my team.”

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, 49:

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

He is Minister of State for Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and a professional shooter, who won multiple medals for the country. Prior to that, the BJP leader served in the Indian Army. Understandably, his passion for fitness began quite early. He says, “I have a gym at home and my favourite workouts include press-ups, planks and yoga stretches. During campaigns, walking compensates for these exercises.”

Kiren Rijiju, 47:

Kiren Rijiju

He is another fitness enthusiast who believes in exercising regularly. The BJP leader and Federal Minister for State for Home Affairs loves cycling and even represented the government at a cyclothon event. Advocating a vision for a ‘new India’ that comprises fit and vibrant youth, he posted some inspirational pictures of himself on social media that provided a glimpse of his workouts.