The Art of Living foundation’s controversial culture festival has suffered another blow with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe pulling out of the event after organisers admitted there were shortcomings in security arrangements.
Mugabe, who left Harare for New Delhi on Monday to attend the three-day World Culture Festival, returned home less than 48 hours after his arrival in the Indian capital, media reports said.
The 92-year-old leader “called off his engagement in India where he was scheduled to be guest of honour at the World Culture Festival”, state-run ZBC TV reported.
In a statement, presidential spokesperson George Charamba said the “cancellation follows communication from the organisers of the festival acknowledging substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements”.
“A number of leaders slotted for participation, including those from the host country, have also withdrawn their participation,” he added.
Mugabe was “forced to abandon his dodgy visit” for the event amid reports that he was “shocked to discover he was the only head of state and government in attendance”, the Zimbabwe Newsday reported.
Mugabe had travelled to India with foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and senior government officials even after it emerged that President Pranab Mukherjee would not attend the controversial event.
The festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s foundation has been under a cloud for several reasons. The organisers have been criticised for damaging the banks of the Yamuna river for building a massive stage for the festival.
The army too faced criticised after soldiers were ordered to build two pontoon bridges for the event. It has also emerged that the Union culture ministry gave Rs 2.5 crore for the cultural festival to be held on the ecosensitive Yamuna floodplain.
Mugabe, nicknamed a “serial traveller” by detractors, is under fire for his costly foreign visits. The President has a huge travelling budget “which has often seen him travel with a group of hangers-on who are paid huge sums of money in travel allowances”, the Newsday reported.