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Goa scraps fest, Russia fumes

Artistes from Goa perform at the press preview of the Surajkund fair in Faridabad on Friday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 1: A Goa government decision to bar a Moscow-supported music festival at the last minute has prompted a tense diplomatic rejoinder from the Russian embassy, which alleged the “insolent” ban could hurt bilateral ties.

The two-day Great Live Music International Festival was scheduled for January 31 and February 1. But the organisers were told to call the event off last evening after at least 500 guests had arrived, Russian diplomats here alleged, calling the Goa government’s behaviour “insolent and starkly unfriendly”.

“Such rash actions do not go in line with the intention stated by the Government of Goa to turn this place into a world-class resort,” Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin said in a statement released in Goa by Russia’s Mumbai consulate.

“Moreover, they contradict the traditions of friendship and mutual understanding which the peoples of Russia and India enjoy.”

Russian diplomats here told The Telegraph that Moscow was considering shifting the festival, launched in Goa last year, to Thailand unless the state government and the foreign ministry offered replacement dates within the next few days.

The stand-off comes at a time Russian tourists, key to the Goa tourism industry over the past few years, have increasingly found themselves accused of running crime and drug syndicates in the tiny state. Close to 150,000 Russian tourists visited Goa last year, the state government’s official website suggests.

The stern statement from Kadakin, known in diplomatic circles for his forceful and unambiguous articulation, comes amid Russian reservations about India’s growing military ties with potential arms industry rivals such as South Korea and Japan.

“This is a ridiculous move, and part of a larger conspiracy to make Russians targets of electoral jockeying ahead of India’s national elections,” a Russian diplomat alleged. “We cannot accept this branding of Russians as criminals in Goa, and this must stop.”

A Goa government official close to chief minister Manohar Parrikar confirmed that the chief minister had himself intervened and instructed officials to stop the event.

Parrikar, who came to power promising to reduce crime in the state, has directed officers that no large-scale entertainment event is to be allowed in Goa without his permission.

The decision had been prompted by repeated protests by local people alleging the state’s reputation was being sullied by its persistent portrayal as primarily a venue for parties.

“In this case, the chief minister had not approved the festival,” the official said. “It was not cancelled — the festival had not been permitted in the first place.”

The Russian embassy, two Russian firms and an Indian event management company are the prime organisers and sponsors of the festival. The event’s website had listed Indian band Parikrama and five Russian bands — mostly of the punk rock genre — as the star performers.