New Delhi: Before the country runs away with reason, let us put International Yoga Day and the unintended controversy that has joined it in perspective.

Ram Madhav of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owes an apology to Vice President Hamid Ansari for insinuating motives to his absence at the International Yoga Day celebration at Rajpath. Sections of the Narendra Modi government and the BJP have a tendency to speak out of turn. By going hyper on the Burma raid, they killed a perfectly executed military operation. It is as important for a government to know when to speak and when to shut up. The second quality is missing from its armoury.

Ram Madhav’s insult of Vice President Ansari is more distressing. Ansari is deputy head of state and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Madhav has the impertinence to browbeat this dignitary. What constitutional authority does he have to comment on his presence or absence from a function? This is very delicate territory and not accessible to anyone save the President and the prime minister by virtue of being leader of the Union cabinet. The government must apologize to Vice President Ansari and Ram Madhav must be removed from any responsible office in the BJP. He shames the party and government.

Predictably, the opening provided by Ram Madhav’s irresponsible conduct has afforded scope to the Indian National Congress, the country’s foremost divisive organization, to accuse the BJP and the Narendra Modi government of like “divisiveness”. Prime Minister Modi’s one year in office profoundly rebuts this accusation, and it must be accepted in good faith that protocol considerations dissuaded the invitation to Ansari for the yoga day celebration in the Capital.

The Indian government is hidebound about protocol. In the offices they hold, the President of India and the Vice President rank above the prime minister in protocol. Where the President or the Vice President is the chief guest, the prime minister has to assume a subsidiary role. In functions directly related to the Indian state, like swearing-ins, the award of state honours, etc, this formidable protocol kicks in.

On the other hand, International Yoga Day was a purely government function. It was driven by the prime minister’s vision. Prime ministers ought to have vision. They are elected in the hope that they will transform the existing order, particularly if it is dismal, for the better. Some prime ministers have vision. Some don’t. Getting the United Nations to accept International Yoga Day constituted considerable success for the prime minister’s diplomatic drive and initiative. It accrues soft power to India which embellishes and sometimes advances hard power.

Given this background and the constraints of protocol, the prime minister had no choice but to lead the yoga day celebrations in the national Capital. Whether a prime minister likes or loathes protocol, it has to be followed. Narendra Modi has no choice in the matter. State traditions cannot be broken. They give continuity and legitimacy to the state. It would have been breach of protocol if the Vice President had been invited and Prime Minister Modi took the role of chief guest. It would have lowered Vice President Ansari.

Could the present controversy nevertheless have been avoided? Most certainly. None would have occurred had Ram Madhav not turned insanely exuberant on Twitter. The Vice President says he would have come if invited. Certainly he would have. He is a man of grace and culture with an exemplary record as a former Indian career diplomat. But he would, for that very reason, understand that protocol cannot be compromised. All the same, he would have been hurt by the controversy, which the government quickly must redress.

To draw sectarian conclusions from all this and seek to implicate the prime minister is highly unfortunate. Prime Minister Modi is absolutely clear about his agenda. It relates solely to growth and development. If India has to rise, the tide must lift all boats. Modi has stressed this time and again. International Yoga Day represents a singular progress of Indian soft power. The prime minister must ensure that libellers and loudmouths in his party and government are silenced for such gains not to be wasted.