Kashmir gears up for its biggest extravaganza

Kashmir gears up for its biggest extravaganza

It is being termed the mother of all cultural events ever held in Kashmir and, given the official and public focus the concert here Saturday by the Bavarian State Orchestra under maestro Zubin Mehta is getting here, it could well be one.

Chartered aircraft, BMW cars brought in just to ferry VVIPs, Rs.3.6 crore spent on renovating the Shalimar Garden venue of the concert, the German ambassador almost camping in Srinagar, hundreds of security personnel detailed for security and the state administration attending to every detail of the 90-minute concert are some of the elements that even common Kashmiris have not failed to notice.

Security check-points have been set up on the Boulevard Road and the Foreshore Road that lead to the concert venue. Vehicles are being checked and occupants frisked as part of the security drill, which is likely to get more stringent.

The concert would be telecast live in 104 countries; never before has any cultural or sports event in Kashmir has attracted so much attention.

Corporate honchos, ambassadors of European countries in India, film stars, bureaucrats and police and military officers are included in the list of invitees --1,500 people, 700 of them from outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Private houses behind the Shalimar Garden were included in the elaborate security drill connected with the concert and commandos would be stationed in them to secure the venue, a security officer here said.

Scores of CCTV cameras have been installed in and around the concert venue.

The road from the Srinagar International Airport, where Zubin Mehta and invitees from outside the state started arriving Thursday, to Shalimar Garden on the banks of the Dal Lake would remain out of bounds for all private and public transport from Friday till the concert ends Saturday evening.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who visited the Shalimar Garden two days back to check the arrangements, said the concert would not change the reality of Kashmir and those opposing it were trying to derive political mileage out of a cultural event.

Separatist leaders have called the concert an exercise by India to give international legitimacy to its "rule" in Kashmir. Some lesser known guerrilla groups like the Al-Nasreen, the Farzandan-e-Milat and the Shuda Brigade have threatened to target foreigners in Kashmir if the concert went ahead.

A few civil society members have announced a parallel 'Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir' (The truth about Kashmir) concert in Srinagar at noon Saturday called to protest against Zubin Mehta's event being named 'Ehsas-e-Kashmir' (The feel of Kashmir).

German Ambassador Michael Steiner has said he would attend the parallel concert if invited.

After his statement, the organisers of the parallel event told IANS they had sent invitations to the ambassadors of all European countries, including Germany, to attend the concert which would showcase music, songs and a photo exhibition on the pain and sufferings of the people.

The authorities in Srinagar said all steps necessary would be taken to maintain law and order Saturday.

Such official statements in the past have often meant imposition of restrictions so that anti-social elements are prevented from disturbing the peace.

Whether or not these steps include disallowing the parallel concert needs to be watched.

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