Four top dignitaries who were supposed to attend the World Culture Festival, organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, have pulled out at the last minute, The Telegraph reported. The presidents of Nepal – Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Sri Lanka – Maithripala Sirisena and Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, as well as the chief executive officer of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah are believed to have withdrawn from the event after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee cancelled a few days ago.
The Indian government had been promoting the event widely at its embassies. According to the Telegraph report, the culture ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Mongolia too have withdrawn. Nepal has decided to now send its deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa. Mugabe had already arrived in India on Tuesday, but returned to Harare without attending the event. Officials representing the heads of state suggested that there were security concerns as well as protocol issues as it would be improper of them to attend when Mukherjee is not.
The event is at the centre of a massive controversy as organisers have been accused of various legal irregularities including causing severe environmental damage to the Yamuna floodplains, where it is being held.