On Saturday, Mumbai-born conductor Zubin Mehta will conduct a 100-man ensemble of Munich’s Bavarian State Orchestra in Srinagar. A total of 1500 guests — mostly acquaintances of the German ambassador in India, Michael Steiner and his staff — from around the world, will be at Ehsas-e-Kashmir.
To the organizers, the mood on the ground in Kashmir was obviously not a weathervane. Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for a general strike on Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Union is against the event and Kashmir’s Coalition of Civil Society will organise a protest concert hours before Mehta takes his first bow.
Various factions linked to the Hizb-ul-Mujahedin have threatened strikes.
What’s in it for Germany? Since it would be absurd to assume that Berlin is merely and fondly fulfilling the maestro’s oft-cited dream of playing in the valley one day, one acceptable motive could be Indo-German relations — if it were not for the far-from-random choice of venue.
To argue that a concert by, say, the Taj Mahal, wouldn’t attract as much global attention bears some truth. Officially and for both Germany’s foreign office as well as the European Union (EU), Kashmir is disputed territory, the last unresolved frontier in South Asia, a dangerous nuclear flashpoint.
It is precisely this bristling topicality that dictated the choice. To a Berlin-based journalist, Hermann Denecke, the choice of Kashmir is a clear if tacit legitimisation by Germany through its highest representative here, of India’s sovereignty in the state.
Additionally, the German ambassador could earn brownie points in Berlin for finally coming up with something greater than ‘soft’ initiatives — like inviting a ‘holy cow’ to guess the winner of a football tournament as earlier this year — during his tenure in India: a country he was reportedly reluctant to come to, instead of going to Paris.
The embassy claims that this concert is ‘for the people of Kashmir’. But there will be no free rows for the general public, let alone a second, open-to-all concert.
Given the range of big names from Reliance to Tata to Deutsche Bank to Lufthansa who are sponsoring the event, money cannot be the excuse.
The ‘people of Kashmir’ will be kept at least 9 kilometers away from the concert venue.
This, more than anything, will be the greatest travesty of an undoubtedly good intention.
(The author is senior South Asia correspondent with various German media houses.)