May 25, 2018 / 10:18 AM / a year ago

India PM Modi accepts fitness challenge but faces opposition backlash

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to accept a fitness challenge from one of the nation’s top cricketers, Virat Kohli, has been seized on by opposition politicians who say the leader should be spending time on other challenges - such as reducing fuel prices and creating jobs.

FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga on International Yoga Day in Lucknow, India June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File Photo

The nation’s sport minister and an Olympic medalist for shooting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, said Modi was the inspiration for the campaign to get Indians to be fitter when it was launched on Tuesday under the Hindi-English slogan “#HumFitTohIndiaFit” (If we are fit, India is fit.”).

“Challenge accepted, Virat! I will be sharing my own #FitnessChallenge video soon,” tweeted Modi, after the batsman had issued his challenge to the prime minister.

Modi, who is reputed to rise at dawn to do yoga before starting work, pushed for June 21 to be celebrated as the International Day of Yoga soon after winning power in 2014, lending his political weight to an industry that has grown up around the ancient physical and spiritual discipline.

The fitness challenge is partly a response to India’s increasing problem with obesity. But with a general election due by next May, the opposition was quick to politicize the matter.

Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, also a fitness enthusiast, dared Modi, one of most followed world leaders on Twitter, to take on a fuel challenge.

“Reduce fuel prices or the Congress will do a nationwide agitation and force you to do so,” Gandhi tweeted.

Prices of diesel and petrol in India have surged to a record high, stoking opposition criticism of Modi’s administration for causing hardship to ordinary people. The rise is only partly because global oil prices have risen in recent weeks - taxes on the fuel have also climbed in recent years.

Tejashwi Yadav, chief of regional party Rahtriya Janata Dal, challenged Modi to provide more jobs for the nation’s youth, relief to farmers and to promise safety for minorities.

Meantime, Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor hurled a “compassion challenge” to the PM through Twitter because Modi has been silent on the shooting this week of 13 people in protests against pollution by a copper smelter in Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu state.

Modi isn’t the only one facing sniping because of the challenge. Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan, who filmed in selfie mode his commute from home to office on a bicycle, after accepting the challenge, was slammed for violating traffic rules by some Twitter users.

Reporting by Malini Menon; Editing by Martin Howell

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