Some 27 Members of the European Union Parliament have been invited to visit Kashmir, which they have done and decidedly have started giving anti-Pakistan and pro Indian government statements in the media (speaking less on the ground situation in Kashmir though).
This is a major shift of the Indian government’s stated policy to date that Kashmir is an internal matter of India and any conflict of interest or action with Pakistan has to be solved bilaterally in the true spirit of the Simla Agreement. And it hence raises several questions.
First, if elected MPs of Europe can be invited for a “Kashmir tour”, why are elected MPs of India either as an all-party delegation or as an opposition delegation still not being allowed to go visit Kashmir and talk to our own country-men there? If Kashmir is normal as the government states, and there is no security threat for the European MPs, how is the situation then not normal and full of threats for Indian MPs? Is not denying Indian Parliamentarians their legitimate right to visit a part of India while allowing foreign MPs the same a sort of contempt of the Indian Parliament? CPIM leader and MP Sitaram Yechury had to take the Supreme Court route to be permitted to visit Kashmir and meet his ailing party colleague and former CPIM MLA in Kashmir, Tarique Tarigami.
Second, if we are allowing European MPs’ private visit to Kashmir, can we then stop the visit of the official delegation of UN Human Rights Commission which has already expressed the desire to visit Kashmir? And is it not a dampening of sorts that the EU Embassy in Delhi has called this visit, not a delegation, not EU-sanction, in the private capacity of the MPs and has kept itself away?
Third, we find two organizations names coming up as invitees of this visit: International Institute of Non-aligned Studies which is inactive for all practical purposes from 1998; and secondly Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank, whose website does not give any reference to their past work and promises many things for women in future. The WESTT official sending invites to the MPs is Madi Sharma who describes herself on Twitter as a business and investment broker. So, has the Indian government given a mandate of scripted PR to a little known organization and a business broker to ameliorate its global image? To say that this is undermining India’s status will be an understatement. Madi’s invitation email to MPs promises a “VIP meet with the Indian PM and a tour of Kashmir.” To presume that huge money has been spent on this will be completely natural. That is government funds, and calls for a Lokpal investigation may be.
Fourth, one of the original invitees, Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MP from North West England, said that he was invited on October 7 and it was withdrawn on October 10, when his liberal credentials were known and when he asked to be allowed to meet and talk to ordinary Kashmiris directly. That shows the visit is selective and merely a PR exercise, though government and media in India initially tried giving it as EU delegation, which it is not.
Fifth, 23 out of the 27 MPs visiting India are from the extreme right-wing parties of France’s Le Penn, Polish ruling anti-immigration RW party, and Brexit Party of UK, among others. Interestingly these 23 have gone to Kashmir, while the rest 4 has mysteriously chosen not to go. Indian Express has reported with the background of all of these MPs, and the team includes two pro-Nazi MPs who had been earlier removed from various EU bodies for their anti-immigrant extremist views. Almost the entire team (except 4) are known Muslim-baiters. That explains their selection.
Sixth, by not allowing our own MPs, many foreign journalists and many liberal political leaders from other nations, but allowing hand-picked EU MPs for a private tour to Kashmir, have not the arguments of internal matter, bilateral issue with Pakistan, security threat, ‘all normal’, scripted PR, etc all gone wrong or being compromised in one go? India needs to think deeper about this.
Seventh, is it not that this is a desperate attempt by the Indian government to counter some 40 damning reports on-ground situation in Kashmir published in The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Time, Economist, etc? But can a restricted and scripted PR exercise, supervised by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, create a counter-narrative? We will know what actual impact of this visit is there after a few days.
Eighth, is it not that this is a desperate attempt by the Indian government to counter several critical observations by top leaders of various global organizations? UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has criticized and expressed concern over “restrictions in India administered Kashmir as it remains under an unprecedented security lockdown and near-total communication blackout.” US Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and British leader of opposition Jeremy Corbyn have scathingly criticized “violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people by India.” The chief of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has called for “an end to lockdowns and communication blockages” and also criticized the Indian judiciary for being slow in dealing with the Kashmir petitions. In a joint statement, Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Eliot L Engel, both in foreign affairs committees of US Congress, calls for “transparency and political participation in Kashmir”.
Ninth, it is interesting to note that sections of the ruling party are themselves not happy with this sudden visit of the EU MPs. The usual cheer-leaders of BJP are silent, and significantly, BJP MP Subramaniam Swamy has called this unwanted visit as “perversion of national policy and grossly immoral.”
Finally, the visit by itself has not been without incidents. Four MPs chose not to go to Kashmir even after coming to Delhi. Stone pelting has been resorted to by Kashmiris in at least 40 places on the day of their visit. Leaders of opposition parties in Kashmir have criticized a pleasure trip of European MPs without getting into the issues and without talking to people.
A hurriedly organized ill-advised trip without taking broader implications into consideration in this sensitive issue has shown Indian government to be desperate and bereft of well-conceived diplomatic measures to counter ground-swell of criticism across the world on the issue of more than 4000 Kashmiris being detained, including many children and some 350 political leaders, and curtailment of their liberty, healthcare, education, economically productive engagements, etc.
The author is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata based Adamas University, and former Dean of Symbiosis & Amity Universities and Pearl Academy. He is a regular columnist and television analyst.