The more things change, the more they remain the same. This is how film director Mahesh Bhatt described the unfortunate cancellation of the Pakistani band Sachal Jazz Ensemble’s programme in Mumbai earlier this week. He is not wrong. According to news reports, a 900-strong audience waited for 45 minutes before they were informed that the performance of the much-acclaimed band, which has Pakistani and British musicians, had been cancelled because the Pakistani musicians had not been given no-objection certificates by the Maharashtra home department. However, the British musicians — to make the Pakistanis feel really unwanted, we presume — got their clearance.
This is not the first time Pakistan’s cultural ambassadors have had to face such disruptions in India despite such artistes being hugely popular here as are Indian musicians and actors across the border. Explaining their decision, Ravinder Shisve, deputy commissioner of police, said that whenever there is a performance by Pakistani nationals, the home department asks for “remarks” from the police. And when the police was asked this time, they replied that while there was no threat this time, there have been earlier instances of vandalism against artistes across the border. An ambiguous assessment of the case, if there ever was one.
Being cautious is a good thing, but being over-cautious can be counter-productive sometimes. And that is exactly what the Mumbai Police and the state government have been, thereby contributing their two-bit worth to the already tense relations between the two countries. In their defence the authorities could argue that there are political groups that are always waiting in the wings for such chances to create pandemonium. We agree that this could have happened, but did the police have credible intelligence on such plans since these attacks are usually pre-planned? If there weren’t any, as they themselves have said, then why be on the backfoot and cede space to such groups? Further, the Shiv Sena and its affiliates, usually the main mischief makers during such events, are now part of the state government. Surely, the BJP government and the police could have ensured that such groups behave themselves and allow people to enjoy an evening of soul-stirring music.