European MPs Visit J&K Amid Questions ,Oppn Hits Out at Govt.
NEW DELHI/ SRINAGAR : A group of European Union lawmakers left for Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, a day after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval, even as the Opposition accused the government of trying to conceal the “real” situation in the state that has been under lockdown for over 80 days.
The MPs are the first international visitors to Jammu and Kashmir since the government scrapped the state’s special status under Article 370 on August 5 and split it into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh. The government had earlier clarified that the MPs were visiting in their personal capacity.
The visit of the delegation comes in the wake of hearing in the United States on Kashmir and denial of permission to US Congressman to Kashmir.The EU Parliament in a meeting over Kashmir has urged the Government of India to ease restrictions and release political prisoners. Meanwhile, EU Embassy in Delhi clarified that the MEPs are in India in their “personal capacity” and not as part of an official delegation.
According to sources in Delhi and Srinagar, a 28-member delegation comprising Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from Italy, Britain, France, Germany, and Poland visited Srinagar on Tuesday.
On Monday, they met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended a lunch hosted by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. They met a few mainstream Kashmiri leaders, including former Minister Muzaffar Beigh from the PDP and winners of the Block Development Council polls in Jammu and Kashmir last week.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said the PM also hoped that the visit will give the delegation a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region,
The move, however, has been criticised by opposition parties, which accused the government of trying to conceal ‘real’ situation in J&K. The PDP “officially distances itself from any (of its) members who attended (National Security Advisor) Doval’s lunch on Monday”, party spokesman and former legislator Firdous Tak said. Party leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig was one of the attendees apart from two others from the state.
Tak said “a member’s interaction with the establishment must not be construed as the party’s endorsement for the same”. Besides Baig, former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, some newly-elected J-K block development council members and co-owner of Real Kashmir Football Club Sandeep Chattoo attended the lunch in Delhi.
Several leaders and activists from the state, including PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, are under detention after the abrogation of the state’s special status on August 5.
However, Tak said, “We hope that those who met the delegation must have projected the right situation. The PDP has every reason to believe that normalcy theatrics by BJP government was the result of tremendous international and national pressure following its misadventures in J&K.”
The Congress too had slammed the development, questioning how the government had allowed a European Union delegation to visit Jammu and Kashmir while preventing Indian leaders from going to the state, and claimed that it was an insult to India’s Parliament and democracy.
Senior party leader Jairam Ramesh asked as to why the “chest-beating champion of nationalism”, in an apparent swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has allowed European leaders to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
“When Indian political leaders have been prevented from meeting the people of J&K, what possessed the great chest-beating champion of nationalism to allow European politicians to visit J&K. This is an outright insult to India’s own Parliament and our democracy,” he tweeted.
“If EU delegation visit to Kashmir can be facilitated by #BJP Govt then why can’t Indian Leaders belonging to Opposition Parties visit #Kashmir ? Indians have to knock door of Supreme Court to visit Kashmir & EU delegation is welcomed by PMO, Why no level playing field?” he asked on Twitter.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati also hit out saying that opposition party MPs should have been allowed into the state before the EU MPs. “…before sending EU MPs to Kashmir to assess the current situation there, it would have been better if the government had allowed the MPs of (our) country, especially opposition parties, to go there,” she tweeted in Hindi.
The National Panthers Party (NPP) also attacked the Centre for clearing a EU delegation’s visit to Kashmir alone, saying an “opportunity was lost” to draw the world attention towards the Jammu region.
“An impression is being sought to be created around the world that J&K means Kashmir alone to the neglect to Jammu region. And this is corroborated by the fact that the Centre has arranged the visit of EU team to Kashmir only,” NPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh said here.
Singh said the priority for EU delegation should have been the International Border in Jammu where the life of border dwellers has become a hell due to war like situation created by Pakistan.
Accusing the BJP of “double standards”, the NPP leader said “selective permissions” to delegations to visit J&K amounted to “infringement of constitutional propriety”.
Internet services — across all platforms — continued to be snapped across the valley since the night of 4 August — hours before the Centre announced its decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcate the state into two Union territories. Landline and postpaid mobile phone services, however, have been restored.
Most of the top-level and second-rung separatist politicians have been taken into preventive custody, while mainstream leaders, including two former chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — have either been detained or placed under house arrest.
Another former chief minister and the Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah, has been arrested under the controversial Public Safety Act, a law enacted by his father and National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1978 when he was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Visuals showed the group driving through heavily guarded Srinagar, their drive taking them past four detention facilities where dozens of politicians including three former chief ministers have been detained.
The EU MPs were taken to the Army Headquarters, where they were briefed on the security situation. They also met members of the BJP. But many alleged that no prominent civil society group, trade body or mainstream Kashmiri political party could meet the delegation. Two MPs of National Conference say they were blocked from meeting the group.
“It is a good opportunity for us to go into Kashmir as a foreign delegation and be able to see firsthand for ourselves what’s happening on the ground,” European Parliament member Nathan Gill had told news agency ANI in the morning, before taking the flight to Srinagar.
Thierry Mariani, a Euro MP for France’s far-right National Rally, was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse (AFP), “we are going to see the situation in Kashmir, at least what they want to show us”.
A European MP, Theresa Griffin, tweeted the group does not officially speak for the European parliament. “To be absolutely clear – the group of far-right MEPs currently visiting #Kashmir are not in any way an “official” delegation. They do not speak for the European Parliament. The shutdown in Kashmir must be ended and constitutional rule of law restored,” she tweeted.
Another MP, Chris Davis, claimed he was dropped from the trip because he asked for unfettered access in Kashmir. The Liberal Democrat MP said he had asked to be allowed to move around without security escort and speak to anyone, to make his own assessment about the situation. “I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It is very clear that democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir, and the world needs to start taking notice,” Mr Davies said.
Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi have slammed the visit. The Congress leader, who was turned away from the Srinagar airport in August, tweeted: “MPs from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu and Kashmir while Indian MPs are banned and denied entry. There is something very wrong with that.”
(With Agency Inputs ).