Vladimir Radyuhin

Moscow: The Year of India in Russia, a yearlong festival of Indian art and culture scheduled for 2009, is in danger of being truncated to a half-year.

The festival, which was to showcase India’s cultural heritage and its modern image, has fallen a victim of red tape and bureaucratic indifference. It was to be opened in a grand way by the Presidents of India and Russia, Pratibha Patil and Dmitry Medvedev, on February 17. But it never happened, even though the date had been agreed upon last year during a trip to India by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and reconfirmed again during Mr. Medvedev’s maiden visit to India in December.

Following the success of the Year of Russia in India in 2008, expectations were high for a reciprocal Indian event in Russia. The two festivals, arranged under a bilateral inter-government agreement, were hailed as the biggest cultural extravaganza in Indo-Russian relations in the past 20 years. However, two months into the new year there are no signs of the Indian fest here; and there is no telling when it may take off.

In mid-January New Delhi informed Moscow that the inauguration was being postponed. The cancellation notice came as a bolt out of the blue for the Russian side. All the necessary preparations had been made and the planned budget for the festival allocated in full despite the global crisis. The organisers had booked Moscow’s premium concert hall, the State Kremlin Palace — specially requested by New Delhi — and made reservations for 800 rooms for Indian guests in the crowded Moscow hotels. The Russians were in for another surprise when in early February they received a “Calendar of Events for the Year of India in Russia” from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Not only was the India programme much more modest than the Russian festival in India, which featured over 150 events, but it also stated unequivocally that the inaugural ceremony in Moscow would take place in “June, 2009”.

The past few weeks have seen hectic diplomatic efforts to resolve what is becoming an increasingly embarrassing situation. Russian organisers would not comment on Indian media reports that Ms. Patil refused to go to Moscow in February because she cannot stand the Russian cold. They say they do not mind if the festival is inaugurated at a lower level. The important thing is that the Year of India opens early to justify its name. The Year of Russia in India was flagged off on February 12, 2008 when then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov travelled to New Delhi.

Since New Delhi insists that the festival must be inaugurated by the Indian President, Moscow has proposed having two opening ceremonies – a “technical” one somewhere in March, and another one at the top level in June. However, the Indian Embassy in Moscow could say for this story when the Year of India could finally get underway.

There is still some hope that the festival would open an early date if only because the Kremlin Palace where the Indian side is so keen to hold the inauguration ceremony will close for renovation in May.