The schedule of the visit was posted by the New Delhi-based Hindu Heritage Foundation on its Facebook page. The students travelled from Delhi to Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar on March 5, where they started off with a special yoga session by Ramdev. Key Patanjali patrons including office bearers Prashanth-ji and Acharya Balkrishna also addressed the students before they went to the Patanjali Swadeshi Products Facility, its cow farm and the Acharya Kulam. The students were also taken for a visit to Parmarth Niketan Ashram and Har ki Pauri during the trip.
ICCR senior programme director Padam Talwar told ET that there was no particular reason for picking Patanjali Yogpeeth as host for the student tour.
“This is not really for sensitisation to Indian culture but as a study tour or just like holidays. We have not chosen Patanjali Yogpeeth. They are offering certain facilities without any interest and charges, so maybe it was involved. There is no particular reason. It’s more a voluntary thing mainly because yoga is coming up in a big way,“ Talwar told ET.
Ramdev’s organisation is emerging as one of the largest manufacturers of consumer goods in India under the Patanjali brand.He’s also courted controversy with statements regarded by some as being divisive.
ICCR’s top officials didn’t respond to queries.
In its Conference on Higher Education in India for Foreign Students held on March 21and 22, ICCR said: “To introduce foreign students with Indian culture and heritage, ICCR participated in a camp for the benefit of foreign students organised by Hindu Heritage Foundation at Haridwar and Rishikesh.“
At its conference, ICCR emphasised the need for handholding foreign students through their stay in India and also introducing them to Indian culture and heritage in keeping with the larger aim of developing social and cultural engagement with all nations.
Jaideep Arya, chief central coordinator of the Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust, confirmed to ET that ICCR had sent foreign students for a camp in Haridwar.
“Yes, we did host foreign students from ICCR. We often do that. We have earlier also hosted foreign students from Germany, Tanzania and Italy,“ Arya told ET.
ICCR is in the process of stepping up efforts to draw foreign scholars to India, a move that got added impetus when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the India-Africa summit in October 2015 that the number of scholarships to foreign students would be increased to 50,000.
ICCR organises regular summer and winter camps for scho larship holders as well as for those who fund their own studies in India to acquaint them with historical, cultural and other places of interest. As per the ICCR website, during the summer months, it arranges tours to hill stations such as KuluManali, Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Shimla etc. and in winter to seaside resorts such as Goa and Thiruvananthapuram.
In a February 16 circular, ICCR said a four-day tour of Haridwar and Rishiskesh would be organised “to introduce foreign students to Indian culture.“ The circular said the council would considerably subsidise the trip and a foreign student on ICCR scholarship would be required to pay no more than Rs 1,000 per day while for self-financing students it would be Rs 1,500 per day.
Nearly 500 foreign students were taken to Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala on similar winter camps by ICCR between November 2015 and January 2016 and another 500 were expected to be hosted in the summer camps.