After opposition from sections of Kashmiri civil society, the Zubin Mehta-led Bavarian State Orchestra concert in Srinagar on Saturday has now drawn internal criticism. Nikolaus Bachler, general manager of the Orchestra, has said they were ‘misled’ about the nature of the event, even as German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner defended it from charges of elitism.
Mr. Bachler said that they were under the impression they would be playing for the Kashmiri people, in the ‘spirit of brotherhood and humanity,’ not at a restricted ‘embassy concert.’ “We were misled by the German embassy. We will raise this issue with the German government that art can’t be exploited by anyone, be it governments or by embassies or any political groups.”
Mr. Bachler suggested that it was because organisers had turned it into an ‘exclusive, elitist event for a selected, invited crowd’ that this became a political issue, which was a ‘pity and against the aim of art.’ He added that all the 80 musicians had waived their fees. “We didn’t waive fees for an embassy concert. Be sure this will be an issue in Germany.”
But Mr. Steiner flagged the issue of security. “As I always said, security of the orchestra and all our guests was, and had to be, my first priority.” He said he was ‘delighted’ they could welcome 2,700 guests at Shalimar Bagh, ‘far more than envisaged.’
The Ambassador also said that this was not merely a VIP event. “All walks of life were represented…The overwhelming majority of our guests were local shopkeepers, craftsmen, shawl wallahs, houseboat owners, doctors, artists, students, teachers, neighbours of Shalimar Bagh, you name it.” Mr. Steiner added that the world was the guest in Kashmir.
I’m a Kashmiri too, says Zubin
Mr. Mehta reached out to his critics. Referring to hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, he said, “Geelani Sahib, I am your friend. You don’t believe it. I wish all of our opposition would have come and enjoyed the music.” He added he was not only a Parsi, but also a Kashmiri. “We are not politicians. We cannot change boundaries but we can start a process of healing.” He added that if Kashmiris wanted, he would return – this time, to perform in a stadium.