German envoy’s retrospective self-correction is too little, too late to undo the damage

Troubled conscience
German Ambassador in New Delhi Micheal Steiner’s repeated laboured justification for holding the politically controversial Zubin Mehta music concert in Srinagar on September 7 betrays understandable retrospective sense of guilt. Irrespective of the artistic and ‘cultural’ merits of the event, it has left behind a trail of avoidable emotional, political and diplomatic distaste. The latest statement attributed to Steiner labours hard to delink theconcert held at Shalimar Bagh from the killing of four young boys in police firing at Shopian, more than 50 Km away, contrary to the predominant impression in the Valley that the two events were directly linked: The ‘unprovoked’ firing in the South Kashmir town was a direct consequence of blanket restrictions clamped across the Valley inconnection with the Mehta concert. There are no takers here for the ambassador’s version to the contrary.

Equally significant is Steiner’s interpretation that the concert had ‘brought back Kashmir on the agenda, nationally as well as internationally’. It is, however, not clear as to what was it exactly which was making him to put this construction on the event after the German embassy had been bending over backwards before the event to refute any such (extra-cultural) linkage. Retrospective wisdom appears to have induced second thoughts, presumably for damage control. The German envoy’s decision to sponsor the renowned conductor’s concert in the troubled Valley had come in for sharp criticism. The main thrust of the opposition in Kashmir was based on the incongruity of holding a high profile musical event in the context of the depressing state of affairs on the ground. The critics, though claiming to be music lovers as well as admirers of Zubin Mehta, felt that the event would send a wrong all-is-well-here message.

That was also the motivation (or provocation) for them to organise a simultaneous parallel event not far from Shalimar Bagh. One needs only to go through the flood of comments over the social networks to gauge the range and depth of hurt feelings. Subsequent visit of the European Union envoys from New Delhi to Kashmir is seen as an attempt to undo the damage caused by the Mehta concert. This particular issue and its ongoing ramifications figured prominently in their discussions with a cross section of the Kashmir civil society.

Contrary to the thrust of Steiner’s contention before the event was held, he is now discovering the merits of Kashmir’s ‘beauty with reality’ having found such a huge international projection via the music concert. His strong refutation that ‘we were not seeking to legitimise anything’ under the guise of sponsoring a music concert has come a vee bit late to evoke the desired response. It was a great omission on the German embassy’s part to let the suspicion grow that the Mehta show was a diplomatic disguise to ‘legitimise oppression’ in Kashmir. The seriousness with which the criticism of the concert and its sponsors is being responded to now after the event, comes too late to make any appreciable impact. The eventuality could have been foreseen if only someone had cared to keep his/her ears to the ground.

Even now, when the German ambassador expects others to believe in his claim that the 2, 400-strong audience at the Shalimar Bagh show comprised ‘mainly common Kashmiris’ he appears to be either grossly misinformed or indulging in misleading rhetoric. By now the ambassador must have also known about the shabby treatment meted out to the Kashmiri musicians who were ‘allowed’ to perform on stage along with the prestigious Vienna orchestra.

Shopian continues to lick the emotional wounds of September 7. In a way, the atmosphere there is symptomatic of that across the length and breadth of Kashmir. Away from German ambassador’s well intentioned loud rethinking on the not-so-memorable event, it is obvious that Kashmir and Kashmiris will take quite some more time to get out of the trauma in order to be able to detect the alleged depiction of ‘beauty with reality’ behind the forgettable music concert.