Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spent nearly three hours at the inaugural ceremony on Friday of the controversial 'world culture festival' on the Yamuna floodplains, asked Indians to be proud of their culture. And, lauded spiritual guru Ravi Shankar for having “introduced” India to the world. The three-day event, organised under the auspices of the Art of Living Foundation that Ravi Shankar heads, has been criticised for having ignored environmental concerns, erecting massive structures on the riverbed for the multitudes who'd be coming.
The PM didn’t refer to the controversy in his speech. "India has the cultural heritage and richness the whole world is looking for. We can fulfill those needs... But, it can only happen, if we take pride in our heritage. If we keep cursing it, then why will the world look at us?" he told the gathering.
The attendance was much below what the organizers had expected. Intermittent rain left the paths leading up to the event difficult to negotiate for those on foot and also led to motor vehicles getting stuck. The event also caused traffic snarls in several parts of Delhi. People returning home afterwards found themselves stuck in traffic for hours.
The PM said Indian cultural traditions had much to offer to the world and this was the country’s soft power.
Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, Nepal's Deputy PM Kamal Thapa and the UAE cultural minister were some of the dignitaries present on the occasion.
President Pranab Mukherjee has already pulled out of attending the valedictory session. Some other VIPS who'd earlier said they'd come would not be doing so.
In his speech, Ravi Shankar took a dig at critics for describing the event as his "private party". He made no reference to the trouble the Art of Living faced with the National Green Tribunal. Obstacles, he said, come up when the intent is to do something noble; once these are overcome, the result is all the sweeter.