It is music maestro Zubin Mehta’s Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (feeling of Kashmir) versus Kashmir civil society’s Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (reality of Kashmir) on September 7. The face-off between ehsaas (feeling) and haqeeqat (reality) is nothing new for a place where the prolonged conflict situation has turned simple life events like attending marriage functions or funerals highly political.
It was naive on the part of German Ambassador Michael Steiner, who sent invitations in his and his wife’s names to make it sound apolitical, to organise a musical programme without assuaging the fears of all stakeholders here. Steiner’s frequent visits to the Valley, more than six times, show he was aware of the challenge, and rightly so.
A significant section of the Valley was up in arms against Pakistan-based musical group, Junoon, when it visited Kashmir in 2008. People’s contention was how the Pakistan government allowed a musical group to visit to the state that it describes as “disputed”. The proposed Harud literary festival was cancelled in 2011 after civil society questioned the motives behind organising such an event.
The opposition to Zubin Mehta’s show is nothing new. Mehta’s explanation as to why he wants to organise a concert in the Valley sounded highly political. “It began as a dream, as a lifelong ambition to do something in Kashmir, a part of the country that I love so much,” he said in an interview. The neutrality of the show did not hold for long.
Besides, Steiner’s role as head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) makes him a highly political being who, given his backdrop, cannot afford an apolitical concert in place like Kashmir.
Of late, the European Union (EU), of which Germany is a significant player, has shown a keen interest in the Kashmir problem. It has already set up a special group — the All Party Group on Kashmir — which frequently holds special sessions on human rights issues, including the newly-found unmarked graves.
The EU is in touch with separatists like JKLF chief Yasin Malik and moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has praised the EU in the past for debating human rights issues. A special group mandated by the EU even described Kashmir as “a beautiful prison”.
So, many people in Kashmir, see the German Embassy-sponsored concert as a U-turn by the EU on Kashmir. A section of people in the Valley do see the EU as one representing the higher values of democracy, federalism, liberty and the right to self-determination.
So is Mehta’s concert a new realisation dawning on Germany or the EU? It remains an open-ended question till the EU, which often provided venues to separatists to discuss the issue, comes clean on any change in its stand on the Kashmir issue.
The EU, of late, has started a background check of all those lobbying for Kashmir after America-based Kashmir separatist and lobbyist Ghulam Nabi Fai came under the scanner for getting funds from Pakistan.
There is also another side to the story of the opposition to the concert. It could also be an outcome of the choking of separatist politics of late.
Hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has called for a shutdown on September 7 against the musical show, remains mostly under house arrest since the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. For 26 Fridays, he was not allowed to offer congregational prayers.
Umar Farooq was not even allowed to offer Eid prayers and Malik was bundled out twice when he tried to visit the Jammu region.
The shrinking political spaces of the separatists have most of them going whole hog in opposing the event, which they fear may give a message of normalcy gaining ground in the Valley to at least 50 countries where the show will be telecast simultaneously. This is also seen as the first international intervention in Kashmir by any country since the 1989 armed rebellion.
For separatists, this normalcy balloon was easy to prick and they did it to gain maximum mileage. The perception game played by the stakeholders in Kashmir has killed the neutrality of events and acts. Students going to school, voters queuing up for development and tourism booming continue to be sold as the final nail in the coffin of the Kashmir issue.
Unfortunately, Kashmir has witnessed politicisation of every, otherwise, apolitical space. The security agencies were the first to use the space of culture and music to either dissuade the youth from toeing the line of a particular ideology or insulate them from the politically surcharged atmosphere of the state. Hundreds of musical talent shows organised by the police and the army did politicise music in Kashmir. Even sports events are being held with a purpose and a political goal.