The Telegraph
Tuesday , December 9 , 2014
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Temple-for-church test stares at Modi

New Delhi, Dec. 8: Narendra Modi faces a temple test - in Russia.

A soured temple-for-church exchange pact between New Delhi and Moscow has added an unlikely edge to the Prime Minister's scheduled talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin here on Thursday.

India will demand that Russia offer permanent land for a temple in Moscow after the city's sole Hindu shrine was demolished last December despite a deal between Putin and Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh to save it, senior officials confirmed to The Telegraph.

The agreement, reached after Singh's Moscow visit last October, involved India clearing the construction of a Russian Orthodox church in the heart of Lutyens Delhi in exchange for Moscow allowing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) temple to stay.

But while India facilitated the erection of the church that now stands in the Russian embassy's cultural centre, 1km from Parliament, Moscow civic authorities demolished the Iskcon temple.

Putin will arrive here on Wednesday evening and hold talks with Modi on Thursday morning.

Among the niggles Modi will want to iron out with Putin are Moscow's failure to implement the shrine deal, Russia's recent defence pact with Pakistan and a malfunctioning nuclear reactor it supplied to the Kudankulam plant.

"We feel cheated, quite frankly, because we pushed for the deal only to find we've been short-changed," Radharaman Das, the Calcutta-based general manager of Iskcon, told this newspaper over the phone.

"Now we're hoping Prime Minister Modi follows through on his promise."

Modi's "promise" came at a Lok Sabha election rally in Assam in February.

"We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries," he had said, referring at the time to Bangladeshi Hindus.

Iskcon, in a petition to Modi ahead of Putin's visit, has prominently cited that statement to remind the Prime Minister of his pledge to support Hindus outside India.

That isn't the only reminder the sect, which boasts over 100,000 native Russian followers, is serving in hectic lobbying with government leaders ahead of the Putin visit.

Modi had himself visited the first Iskcon temple in Moscow's Begovaya neighbourhood in 2001, soon after he had become Gujarat chief minister, the group told foreign minister Sushma Swaraj during a recent presentation.

Moscow razed the Iskcon temple twice. First, the Begovaya temple was demolished in 2004 after Moscow authorities gave Iskcon land in another neighbourhood, Dynamo.

Later in 2007, the group was told to shift to a permanent plot near the city's Sheremetyeko International Airport.

They did and built a temple, only to be told in 2011 they would need to shift again by late 2013.

"That's when we hit upon this idea of a quid pro quo," an Indian diplomat said.

"We kept our end of the bargain; they didn't."

The foreign office is miffed, the official said, with Russia for embarrassing it by reneging on its promise.

But a Russian official argued that Moscow hadn't backtracked on the deal - it was just struggling to find a location for the temple that would be acceptable to the local population.

"The loud sounds from the temple aren't acceptable to all - that's a problem," the official said.

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