Sanjay Kak

‘G20 Srinagar Meet Is A Stage-Managed, State-Managed Show, Not Reality’

Sanjay Kak

Sanjay Kak, an acclaimed, independent documentary filmmaker and writer, says the Srinagar spectacle is targeted more towards domestic consumption than global audience. His words:

What is going on in Srinagar right now is a performance – mere optics. Otherwise, this seems to be a fairly pedestrian, low-level gathering of bureaucrats, tourism officials, tour-operators and a sprinkling of Delhi-based diplomats. Not surprisingly, the organisers are so far reluctant to even make public the full list of who is attending it!

To be fair, the overkill had begun well before the event. And countries that we are otherwise told are significant to India have also had to take visible, embarrassing positions – including Saudi Arabia, with which India claims a recent and special proximity, having dropped out.

It’s only because the government of India has over-invested the event with significance that the spectacle that they are presenting now seem to be going awry. Those first images emerging out of Srinagar yesterday were very telling – an endless cavalcade of cars tearing down the road from the airport to the city centre,with emptied out streets watched over by armed security men, concealed behind cosmetic screens with the G20 logo plastered across them. The security is so tight it’s as if the prime minister was visiting Srinagar!

I wonder what the delegates and the accompanying media might have thought about all this. Surely, they too pick up the newspapers and read that the Boulevard Road on which they are housed has been shut down to the public – and that includes tourists from India – for three days?

ALSO READ: ‘Kashmir Will Never Be The Same Without Pandits’

Once again, it’s the optics that is baffling. In order to suggest that Srinagar was safe for the event we were flooded with media reports of the high-powered security that had been put in place. The main venue, the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), is by the Dal Lake, so we have been inundated with images of soldiers, armed to the teeth, racing around in high-speed boats – Marine Commandos, the CRPF. The National Security Guard was seen very visibly strutting around Lal Chowk. The army, we were told, is patrolling the hillsides that overlook the Convention Centre.

What is all of this war-like preparation meant to suggest? Normalcy in Kashmir?

The plans to take the delegates out of the secure perimeters of the SKICC and their hotel was also scuttled at the last moment. If Dachigam, which is less than 15 kms away from the SKICC, and Gulmarg, which had already been emptied out of tourists and ‘sanitised’ days before the event, are both not considered safe for the delegates, then what exactly is the government trying to project?

The real answer is that perhaps none of it is aimed at the G20 delegates or the world. It’s a performance of power for the domestic audience, and we know that a pliable Indian media will mostly not ask relevant questions. They will once again notch it up as one more triumph for the central government in Kashmir.

Let’s leave aside the question of civil rights, or, of the throttling of the media, for the moment. One of the questions that need to be asked – and I believe it was asked by some plucky journalists in Srinagar yesterday – is, why not then announce elections in Kashmir? Surely, if conditions are normal for tourists, then, so should they be for citizens, and voters!

(Sanjay Kak’s recent work includes the films, Red Ant Dream (2013), Jashn-e-Azadi (2007) and Words on Water (2002). He is the editor of the anthology, Until My Freedom Has Come – The New Intifada in Kashmir, and of the photobook, Witness – Kashmir 1986-2016, 9 Photographers, published independently under the imprint of Yaarbal Books)

Read More:

As told to Amit Sengupta

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10 months ago

Yes the G20 is another Jashn e Azadi

Rafiq Kathwari
10 months ago

Truth cannot be camouflaged.

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