You are currently viewing From Russia With (Not Too Much) Love

From Russia With (Not Too Much) Love

A Scene from Great Live Music 2013


The Inside Story Behind the Cancellation of Great Live Music 2014

The James Bond movie ‘From Russia With Love’ was released five decades ago, salve but when it comes to excruciating drama and sheer intrigue, store it has a lot in common with what happened this past week in Goa – when the state government effectively canceled a major Russian rock festival at the 11th hour, causing crores of rupees of losses, standing up high profile bands and thousands of fans, infuriating organizers, straining India-Russia relations and damaging Goa’s all-important tourism lifeline.

Great Live Music was to have taken place Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 near the Baga Bridge, bringing together bands from Russia, India and Latvia, including Parikrama, Indian Ocean, Brainstorm and the Matrixx. Everything was in place, the bands had done their sound checks, and even the audience had started to fill up the outdoor field, when the bomb dropped: the Goa government had denied permissions to hold the event.

“Like every other person in India and loads abroad, we all love Goa. Even if I take myself away from being a person who was affected by this, as a band member, I definitely think that this incident will not be taken in a good light by many in the event industry and the people as a whole,” Subir Malik, a member of Parikrama, told Streets.

Little did organizers understand that they had walked into a hornet’s nest of local sniping over Goa’s fast-changing tourism landscape, from a largely Western European clientele to the current influx of an estimated 2.5 lakh Russians this year. The official reason for halting the event was that more time was needed to work out a heated dispute between Russian-charter tour operators and local taxi drivers enraged over being denied access to the huge numbers of Russian visitors (the drivers had been staging increasingly ominous protests, including blocking buses carrying Russians and roughing up their drivers).


CM Manohar Parrikar


Exactly what the festival had to do with the local dispute was never clear. But what is clear is that the cancellation was largely due to the objections of a single MLA, Michael Lobo, who was siding with the drivers in the Russia dispute, who was ostensibly concerned the festival would interfere with the ‘novenas’ of a local church, and who, according to officials involved in the case, was angry over being overlooked by the organizers in the distribution of lucrative entry passes. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said organizers gave large numbers of such passes to a rival politician.

In the end, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, apparently under pressure from Lobo, made the call not to grant permission. Whether he was aware of the international implications of that decision – the Russian ambassador to India weighed in with a warning that Russians will now stay away from Goa, and Russia’s vice-consul in Mumbai called the decision “shameful” – is not known.

One of the Russian organizers of the event who did not wish to be named said he and his colleagues lost Rs 2.2-cr “which had been paid for permissions, getting the bands, etc.” That doesn’t include the losses incurred by the hundreds if not thousands of Russians who flocked to Goa, mostly to hear Parikrama, which had given an extremely well-received concert in St. Petersburg, Russia not long ago – stirring up Russian desires for an encore.

Denvas Services, the organizers of the festival, were given the impression that Joseph Sequeira, who controls the Calangute panchayat, was the man to go to if they wanted to have the fest in the area. Sequeira also enjoys a good rapport with Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar, and helped facilitate the required permissions for the organizers. All permissions were in place, except for the approval of the Home Minister, who is also Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.

According to the officials involved in the case, the trouble began when the organizers gave a large number of entry passes to Calangute panchayat members and the Tourism Minister, but did not give any passes to MLA Lobo. This is not just about people’s burning desire to attend a music festival. The passes were selling for Rs 2,500 a piece, so access to hundreds of them could have been an extremely lucrative arrangement.


MLA Michael lobo


Peeved with the organizers for humiliating him, Lobo first raised objections to the fest on the ground that it would disturb the church novenas, and prevailed on the CM not to give permission for the event.

The official Goa government version was that it would have caused a law and order problem, because only a few days earlier, a large number of taxi operators had created a commotion at Calangute and Morjim.

 “It is a rather strange and rather weird decision, Goa’s authorities have made,” Russia’s Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin told Itar-Tass. “The unrighteous approach of the local authorities to organisation of cultural events will affect the inflow of Russian tourists here. Most likely, they will have to choose from other more welcoming resorts,” the ambassador said.

Parulekar, Sequeira and Lobo all deny any wrongdoing, and insist they are faithfully representing the interests of their constituents.

Realising that things were spinning out of control, Goa CM Parrikar attempted to do some damage control by publicly saying in Calangute earlier in the week that taxi operators and other stake-holders in the tourism industry should uphold the maxim ‘Atithi devo bhava’ – the guest is god. He also said that the Goa government would favourably consider a fresh proposal for the same Great Live Music festival if the organizers applied for the same. But that seemed like a long shot, considering the terrible taste left by the current fiasco.

As Ekaterina Belyakova, head of the Russian Information Centre in Goa, put it, “We suggest all parties involved in this situation to start a round-table discussion as soon as possible. Discussing the problems and finding solutions satisfying everyone’s interest will be a more efficient method than going into the streets and disturbing the atmosphere of peace and serenity that makes Goa so unique and so attractive to tourists.”

Hopefully, those discussions, if they’re ever held, will highlight the importance of putting collective interests over petty rivalries.