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All work, no play for Modi in Brazil

New Delhi, June 25: Xi Jinping will be there. So will Vladmir Putin. Barack Obama may make a short trip down. And a galaxy of European and Latin American leaders is expected. But one seat Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is keeping warm will stay empty.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will skip the Fifa World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 despite an invitation from Roussef, ensuring that India’s absence at the high table of global football will also resonate in the stands where some of the world’s top leaders will gather.

Modi, who has set a punishing schedule for ministers and bureaucrats alike, will fly to Brazil for a summit of the BRICS grouping of emerging economies starting July 15 in the port town of Fortaleza.

But the Prime Minister has told his aides he is unwilling to leave New Delhi two days earlier, in the middle of a Parliament session where his government will present its first budget, to attend what will be this year’s biggest sporting spectacle, senior officials have said.

Like India, China and South Africa — which along with Brazil and Russia constitute the BRICS — are not participating in the World Cup, and Russia has already been eliminated from the tournament.

But Chinese President Xi, Russian President Putin and South African President Jacob Zuma have all accepted Roussef’s invitation to attend the World Cup final, to be played at Rio’s Maracana stadium — one of global football’s most iconic arenas.

Xi, in fact, was so keen to watch the World Cup final that China negotiated with Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa to schedule the BRICS summit just after the football tournament to allow him to juggle work and fun on his Brazil trip.

“President Roussef had personally invited Prime Minister Modi so we were very keen that he attend, and this is a little disappointing,” a Brazilian diplomat said, questioning the Indian government argument over the Parliament session making an early trip difficult for Modi.

The budget session starts on July 7, and the main budget is to be presented on July 10. The debates on the budget are expected to heat up only by the end of the month, and the Brazilian diplomat was suggesting that Modi could — if he wished — have made time to accept Roussef’s invitation.

But Modi’s decision is unlikely to leave any serious dent in ties between India and Brazil, former Indian ambassador to Brazil Amitava Tripathi said.

“Prime Minister Modi has made it clear he believes in work over fun,” Tripathi told The Telegraph. “And this could be construed as fun.”

Modi’s decision to attend the BRICS summit, Tripathi said, should prove more crucial than his move to skip the World Cup final.

“The attendance of world leaders will be a major show of strength for President Roussef as she faces opposition, and Brazil would have really liked the Indian Prime Minister to attend the final, but I think they’ll understand,” Tripathi said.

The World Cup in Brazil, while thrilling fans the world over, has also triggered massive protests in most major cities of the country, with many questioning the government’s spending on a sporting event at a time it is short on funds for public infrastructure and social schemes. Roussef faces elections later this year.