Exactly a year ago, a news-break by IANS rocked the Indian parliament about an imminent legal ban on the Bhagvad Gita, Hinduism's revered text and philosophical treatise, in Russia, forcing Moscow's intervention.
The crisis blew over and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), the official name of the Hare Krishna Movement, continued to exercise the right to distribute the Gita's Russian translation.
A year later, a bigger crisis looms. A cocktail of religious idiosyncrasy and byzantine municipal laws is leading to Iskcon's eviction from its only temple in Moscow on January 15.
The socio-religious group with following across the world, including top business leaders of Indian origin, has now invoked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take the matter up when Russian President Valdimir Putin visits New Delhi for the 13th India-Russia Annual Summit on Monday.
Putin, on his part, has a woe list of his own, ranging from Russian telecom major Sistema's $3.2-billion investment in India that is stuck in litigation and the stalled nuclear plant in Kudankulam.
In a letter addressed to Pulok Chatterji, principal secretary to the Indian prime minister, and backed by dozens of legal documents and translations, Iskcon has urged that their plight be heard, the imminent destruction of the temple on January 15 is red-flagged and the Russians told in clear terms that eviction from the makeshift premises — an iron shack constructed after the main temple was razed in 2004 — would be unacceptable to India.
A chilling video of devotees of Lord Krishna braving the minus 18 degree Moscow temperatures, a few still pictures and a petition have also been shared with Chatterji and other interlocutors, including External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
The city's only Hindu temple was bulldozed in 2004. After much outcry in India, including by actor Hema Malini and some top industrialists, the prime minister intervened with Putin and Iskcon was allowed to construct a corrugated iron shack with no sewers or heating, with the promise that they would be able to replace it with a more dignified permanent temple.
The Moscow city administration is now citing “improprieties” in their own allotment order, as the structure allegedly “violates the urban planning code” and “has no legal ground”.
Manmohan Singh and Putin are poised to sign almost a dozen bilateral agreements. But India is also expected to tell Russia that it cannot really intervene in the Sistema imbroglio directly as the courts are seized of the matter and a curative petition has already been filed by the company.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had ordered the award of 122 telecom licences and related airwave in 2008 cancelled. The Russian telecom company was among the licensees.
But queering the pitch, Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin said on Friday that Sistema's matter was a “political” and not a “judicial” decision. Similarly, speaking on issues relating to the Kudankulam nuclear project, Kadakin described Kudankulam 3 and 4 as the “grandsons” of Kudankulam 1 and 2.
He stressed that the agreements for 3 and 4 were finalised in 2008 and hence, should not come under the purview of the 2010 civil nuclear liability law. The cleavage is obvious because unlike New Delhi, Moscow has a system of the executive advising the judiciary.
Krishna devotees do hope the 13th India-Russia Annual Summit has something for them to cheer in the New Year.
(Rohit Bansal is chief executive and co-founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi and Solomon Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter @therohitbansal)