Art of Living's Sri Sri gets a message as world leaders he invited show their Art of Leaving.
The four senior-most foreign leaders who were to attend the World Culture Festival organised by the Art of Living Foundation have pulled out of the event, embarrassing the Narendra Modi government that used Indian embassies across the world to promote the meet reports The Telegraph.
According to The Telegraph, the Presidents of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and the chief executive officer of Afghanistan have withdrawn from the event after President Pranab Mukherjee cancelled his participation, officials said. Some of the officials cited protocol concerns as one of the reasons for the withdrawal.
Barring overnight surprises, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to be the sole leader of his rank at the festival this weekend when he inaugurates the event tomorrow evening. The government this afternoon confirmed Modi would participate in the event.
The culture ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Mongolia too have cancelled their participation.
As per The Telegraph’s report, a phalanx of less senior global leaders and former Prime Ministers and Presidents is still expected to descend on the capital for the three-day festival that begins tomorrow on the banks of the Yamuna, including replacements for those who have dropped out.
But the pullout by Nepal's first woman President, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe - who had already arrived in India but left today in an unusual move - and Afghanistan CEO Abdullah Abdullah represents the latest setback to the event.
The four heads of state or government were to speak at a world leaders' conference on the second day of the jamboree for which the National Green Tribunal has fined the Art of Living Foundation headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
"Our President will not be visiting," Nepal's ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, toldThe Telegraph. "Instead, our deputy Prime Minister, Kamal Thapa, will attend."
The circumstances of the multiple cancellations, the messages behind them and the lobbying for the event that the Modi administration had thrust upon Indian missions have left the government red-faced.
Mugabe had already landed here on Tuesday for the summit but returned today to Harare without attending the event. His office issued the only formal statement by any of the leaders who have cancelled their attendance.
Mugabe's media secretary George Charamba said: "The cancellation follows communication from organisers of the festival acknowledging substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event."
"The President is expected home in a couple of days."
Protocol concerns were also the reason - at least officially - that the Presidents of Sri Lanka and Nepal and the CEO of Afghanistan cancelled their visits. With the Indian President withdrawing from the event, it would be diplomatically improper, the other serving Presidents contended, for them to attend.
Abdullah, who holds a rank equivalent to the Prime Minister's, could have attended but has chosen not to. Afghan officials said the uncertainty over the Indian PM's participation till today played a role.
It is rare for leaders who agree to visit a country to pull out citing protocol. It is rarer for a leader to land in a country for an event and then return without attending.
For many diplomats in the foreign office, the cancellations and the cloud over the festival are particularly frustrating because they were made to perform a task completely out of tune with their training - the promotion of a private trust's event.
Some view the government's tacit but complete backing of the event despite the controversies it has attracted as the Prime Minister's way of returning a favour to Ravi Shankar. Last year, the spiritual leader had used his global network of centres and volunteers in 155 countries to make the first International Day of Yoga, piloted by Modi, a success. Most of the trainers who led the public yoga sessions that day in June were from Ravi
Officially, the external affairs ministry has maintained it had no role in the organisation of the festival. The invitations to world leaders were all sent out by the Art of Living Foundation and not the government, foreign office spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
"We were not the people who invited them," Swarup said today. "Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's organisation invited them, and you should ask them about any cancellation."
But evidence from Indian missions in countries across continents suggests that they had treated the festival almost as a quasi-government event, informing the Indian diaspora about it and in some cases, even nudging people to ensure higher participation.
The Indian embassy in Germany uploaded a poster of the event on its Facebook page on February 16, with images of Modi and Mukherjee sandwiching that of Ravi Shankar.
On January 28, the Indian embassy in Serbia posted a 100-second video about the festival on its Facebook page, drawing 37,051 viewers by this evening.
The Indian embassy for Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica is highlighting, on its website, how the "festival will be inaugurated by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi".
"Participants from more than 152 countries will land in India to attend this event which is expected to have a live audience of about 3.5 mn people," the embassy website says.
The Indian embassy in Myanmar made clear in a note to the Indian community that it was keen to showcase significant participation from that country.
"Please see the following flyer on the World Culture Festival scheduled in New Delhi, India, on March 11-13, 2016," the embassy note says. "It is requested that you may kindly disseminate the information to all of your associates and members so that a sizeable participation from Myanmar can be achieved."
(Courtesy: *The Telegraph)