PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has cancelled his participation at an Indian cultural festival reportedly over security concerns.
NewsDay yesterday reported that Mugabe would cut a forlorn figure because he would stick out as the only high-profile Head of State at the World Culture Festival (WCF) organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living.
Mugabe left for New Delhi on Monday evening to attend the low-key event, which was boycotted by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and his African peers, who preferred sending former presidents and junior ministers or MPs.
Mukherjee had already indicated he would not attend the event hosted by his country over environmental concerns raised by a lobby group, arguing the masses of people who were expected posed a threat to the site, a protected flood plain east of the capital.
Mugabe’s Press secretary George Charamba, in a statement from New Delhi, said Mugabe was now expected home “in a couple of days”.
“His Excellency, the President Cde RG Mugabe, has called off his engagement in India where he was scheduled to be guest of honour at the World Culture Festival. The event, which is a celebration of peace in multiculturalism and ecumenicity, was scheduled to begin tomorrow (today) March 10, 2016,” Charamba said yesterday.
“The cancellation follows communication from organisers of the festival acknowledging substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event. A number of leaders slotted for participation, including those from the host country, have also withdrawn their participation. The President is expected home in a couple of days.”
Mugabe, who was scheduled to proceed to Singapore after the festival, took with him an entourage that includes Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and Charamba, among other government officials.
The President, who is famed for his love for foreign travel and has, in the past, attended a youth summit, where he was the only Head of State, curiously left behind Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture and Heritage minister Abednico Ncube.
Ncube on Tuesday confirmed he was not part of the presidential delegation to India.
While some countries were represented by Culture ministers and even legislators in the case of Japan and Germany, former presidents of Nigeria and Mozambique, Olusegun Obasanjo and Joachim Chissano, will respectively represent their countries.
Former French Premier Dominique de Villepin also makes up the list of former leaders in attendance.
The presidents of Sri Lanka and Nepal are among the few serving Heads of State at the festival.
India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) went to court seeking an order to stop the event, raising concerns over the impact of thousands of “visitors and large structures on the fragile Yamuna bed and the flora and fauna that inhabit it”.
The Indian court yesterday ruled that “the event will proceed, but Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would have to pay for the damage to the environment. There will be no such permission in future,” reports from India said last night.
In an angry exchange on Indian channel NDTV last night, a representative of NGT told a Union minister: “You are stretching our patience.”
According to the Indian Business Standard, the Asian country’s military establishment had also raised concerns about the deployment of troops to help with preparations for a “private function”.