Strains appear to have surfaced in cultural ties between India and Russia with Moscow expressing dissatisfaction with the steps taken by New Delhi to resolve matters concerning the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) in Himachal Pradesh.
Russia says it has written several letters to the External Affairs Ministry, drawing its attention to what it calls the attempts being made by the authorities in the state to take over the Naggar-based trust by evicting its Russian Curator Elena Adamkova.
However, the Government of India was just passing on these letters to the Himachal government and sending back to the Russian Embassy in New Delhi the responses being received from the state, according to diplomatic sources.
The Central government appeared to be dragging its feet since the BJP was governing Himachal Pradesh. New Delhi apparently feels that that the issue could acquire political colour if it was to intervene in the matter.
The sources said Russia wanted India to work out an appropriate mechanism to take the trust under Central jurisdiction. It could be run by a body like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
They alleged that the local authorities in Kullu recently behaved in a rude and uncivilised manner and harassed Adamkova, completely ignoring her contribution to the development of the IRMT complex in the past decade. The authorities obviously wanted to evict the curator from the trust premises.
She, however, continued to stay there despite the problems she was facing. ''Our fear is that if she leaves, priceless artefacts would be removed from the trust premises and Russia will be blamed for the theft,'' the sources added.
The actions of the local authorities were objectionable and unacceptable, fraught with undermining Russia's civilisational values and aimed at provoking a scandal of bilateral and international dimensions.
Underlining that the issue was as sensitive and emotive for the Russians as the recent controversy over the Bhagvad Gita in Russia was for the Indians, the sources said the unhealthy developments at the IRMT were expected to be raised in the Russian Duma (Parliament) after the 'Victory Day' celebrations on May 9.
The sources emphasised the genuine international and civilisational character of the IRMT's legacy saying, "It does not belong to Naggar or Kullu or Himachal Pradesh, not even to India or Russia. It belongs to mankind and cannot be administered by a district administration. This indisputable fact should be kept in mind while dealing with all matters pertaining to the IRMT."
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 28