It is as well that the President Pranab Mukherjee will not be delivering the valedictory address at the world cultural festival being organised by the Sri Sri Ravishankar-led Art of Living Foundation on the Yamuna flood plains east of Delhi. Rashtrapati Bhavan did not need to elaborate on the reasons, but it can safely be assumed that the head of state decided to skip the anniversary because of the controversies building up around it.
The NGT has been dragged into the issue while the Army has been told to put up pontoons to facilitate the movement of around three million expected attendees. The circumstances surrounding the event — on a 1,000-acre site at which a seven-acre temporary stage is being erected — were more than likely to snowball into a storm of public opinion in a world dominated by social media angst. The more important reason why the President’s conspicuous absence will signal the right semaphores is the event is quasi-religious.
If the head of state attends such an event, he would morally be obliged to attend many more of other religions in our multi-faith country. His presence would have triggered talk of needless religious connotations. The President must either stay well clear of such occasions in a secular country or be seen actively involved in encouraging people of all faiths at all such congregations. There is, however, nothing wrong in asking the Army to take a hand in ensuring people’s safety. No faith needs official patronage, especially in India where almost every religion commands tens of millions of the faithful.