Separatist opposition creates uncertainty over a concert to be conducted by Zubin Mehta in the Valley
Even before the outbreak of secessionist militancy in 1989, events seen as having the potential to alter the ‘disputed’ status of Jammu and Kashmir became enmeshed in controversy — for instance, the international cricket match in Srinagar in 1983 that culminated unforeseeably in the creation of an organised movement that saw Mushtaqul Islam floating the Hizbullah in 1990.
Thirty years later, the controversy around Zubin Mehta’s concert Ehsaas-e-Kashmir, being organised by the German embassy at Shalimar Bagh on September 7 is no surprise.
Much before leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed the suspicion that the show was an attempt to project Kashmir as “normal” and “peaceful”, the Germans were already getting a bad press.
When Ambassador Michael Steiner said at a news conference in Srinagar that Germany “recognised” Kashmir’s legitimate, democratic institutions — namely, the elected State government — he was questioned if Europe’s one-time description of Kashmir “the world’s most beautiful prison” in 2004 had changed to dealing exclusively with the pro-Indian politicians and the establishment in 2013. Much to the chagrin of separatists, Western diplomats have abandoned their tradition of visiting their leaders for photo sessions in Srinagar and granting them appointment in New Delhi.
Ambassador Steiner’s initiatives on German language classes in Kashmir University, and his friendship with vice chancellor Prof. Talat Ahmad — respected in pro-government circles for eliminating the organised promotion of separatist ideology from the campus and inviting Congress leaders such as Rahul Gandhi and Jairam Ramesh to meet students — also did not go down well.
Media reports claiming that “hundreds of crores of rupees” were being spent on ferrying 400 artists of Mr. Mehta’s Bavarian State Orchestra and their equipment in dozens of chartered flights from Germany to Srinagar have only added salt to separatist hurt.
Even as the separatists felt ignored, the organisers appeared to have increased the frequency of their interactions with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Governor N.N. Vohra. Clearly, this concert would be different from the NGO-organised Terra Naomi concert of December 2009 — JKLF chairman Yasin Malik had been present among the Kashmiri youth who attended the event.
Indian Army operation
With the growing feeling in the separatist camp that the Western diplomatic community has joined hands with New Delhi to marginalise the Kashmiri struggle, Mehta’s concert is being dismissed as part of the Indian Army’s “Goodwill Operation” and thus “an extension of the military occupation and colonialism”. That there is no evidence of the Indian Army helping the concert organisers is seen as irrelevant.
There is now a full-fledged campaign in the media to ensure that ‘Ehsaas-e-Kashmir’ meets the same fate as ‘Harud’, Kashmir’s first ever literary festival that had to be aborted in September 2011. But unlike the the LitFest organisers, who threw in the towel acknowledging “a victory for a vocal minority who feel that they alone are the doorkeepers to people's minds and hearts”, the German embassy is unlikely to surrender.
From the Pakistani band Junoon to the Egyptian Derveshs, the visits of artists and musicians from different countries have never gone down well with those who believe that these could be used as an epitaph of the separatist movement, or the “Kashmir cause”. Some would call it “infringement to religious, cultural and social sensibilities” as projected in Mufti Azam Basheeruddin’s fatwa against Kashmir’s first all-girl band, Pragaash, in February 2013, but it is hard not to think that the band might have been accepted had it made its debut with a song extolling freedom.
The German embassy has already issued a clarification that the September 7 concert is a completely apolitical event. In an interview to Greater Kashmir, Mr. Steiner said it was decided to hold the concert in the Valley because “[w]e think Kashmir deserves recognition for its culture and history”. Famous Kashmiri composers Bhajan Sopori and Waheed Jeelani too have declared their support for the Mehta concert, emphasising that there was nothing “indecent or political” about it.
“It’s a huge classical orchestra. There are no electronic instruments, not even a guitar, no jazz, no pop, no rock. It’s much like our own devotional Sufiana,” Mr. Sopori explained to The Hindu.
But as the day of the concert draws closer, it is being give newer dimensions by those who want no part of it.
“For us, it’s an Israel-India-America axis of evil. They make every attempt to weaken the Islamic movements and strengthen the Zionist Israeli State. Clearly, this is such an attempt,” Dukhtaraan-e-Millat’s Naheeda Nasreen told The Hindu, calling attention to what she said were Mr. Mehta’s “Israeli connections” — his connections with the Israel Philharmonic and awards from Israel.
It remains to be seen how successfully the Germans wade out of the storm.