India: Politicians Defy Jingoists, Host Concerts by Famed Pakistani Singer

Masuma Parveen
2016.01.15
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160115-BD-singer-620 Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ustad Ghulam Ali performed in Kolkata on Tuesday after being invited by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
AFP

Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ustad Ghulam Ali performed before a jam-packed Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday and followed with a similar performance in Kerala on Friday, soothing potential political issues through music.

He had to cancel scheduled concerts in Mumbai and Pune in October 2015 amid alleged threats from the far-right Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra state.

At the same time, artists from across the country returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards –presented by India’s National Academy of Letters to top authors – to protest against the central government’s inaction against perceived growing intolerance in India.

Ali, who has performed across India as well as the globe, said he would not return to sing until the political climate of intolerance had died down. Ghazal is a poetic form of rhyming couplets and a refrain with each line sharing the same meter.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, as well as her counterparts in Delhi and Lucknow, Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav, invited Ali to their perform in their jurisdictions.

“It was definitely more politics than music,” economist and political commentator Dipak Banerjee told BenarNews. “They wanted to make a statement that they stand against the jingoistic anti-Muslim Hindu fundamentalism that the likes of BJP and Shiv Sena practice.”

Ali performed in Kolkata before a crowd of 15,000 inside the stadium and thousands more outside after police had to restrict entry after the venue reached capacity. He compared Mamata Banerjee to the Goddess Saraswati and expressed his gratitude for being able to perform in India again.

“I was so sad. My sadness ends today,” he told the appreciative audience.

Among those on hand for the performance was film director Mahesh Bhatt.

“It is nothing short of a miracle to have Ghulam Ali perform again in India. Mamata Banerjee has proved her mettle yet again,” Bhatt said.

Speaking at the concert, Banerjee stressed that music did not know any boundaries, and asked Ali to perform in the city again.

Ali performed popular numbers in Urdu such as “Chupke chupke” and “Hungama,” along with gems such as “Para para” and “Shayad.”

“I enjoy singing all over the world, but I enjoy the most singing in Kolkata,” Ali said.

Fan thanks chief minister for concert

Thousands of people in the West Bengal capital lined up to see his performance.

“Though Ali performed in Kolkata on several occasions, it is the first time I attended one,” Suparna Santra told BenarNews.

“It takes some political bigots to prevent him from singing. Thanks to our Chief Minister, he is back in India. One must understand that neither ordinary Pakistani citizens should be held accountable or be blamed for terrorism, nor an artist of Ali’s class be seen through the color of his passport,” Santra said.

Dilip Das, a veteran singer and composer for the All India Radio, Kolkata, praised the performance.

“Kolkata has proved that the common people in India are, by and large, still way above the fundamentalist bigotry that some political parties are keen to impart on the nation,” he told BenarNews.

“I am sure, had Ali been allowed to perform in Mumbai, he would’ve received the same warmth from the audience there as well. The difference between the two cities is that, in one, the chief minister stood tall while in the other, the CM gave in to a handful of rowdy elements,” Das said.

BJP leaders questioned concert

Dilip Ghosh, state president of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, questioned the politics of bringing a Pakistani to perform in Kolkata.

“We don't have any problem with programs of Pakistani artists here. But we only pointed out whether organizing a music concert with Ghulam Ali would be right at this moment when Pakistan is sending terrorists in our country,” Ghosh said, pointing to the militant attack on Jan. 2 at the Pathankot Air Force station.

BJP leader and Tripura Gov. Tathagata Roy posted a tweet questioning the performance, pointing out that Bengali Hindus had suffered more than anyone at the hands of Pakistanis.

But sociologist Ananya Chatterjee challenged his comment.

“He, being the governor of a state, has no business commenting on such events. It’s his political colors that are showing. The collective assault of BJP on Mamata Banerjee and the timing of the concert is betraying their frustration and desperation,” Chatterjee said.

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