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A curious situation

A curious situation

With the European Union Parliamentary delegation present in Srinagar to meet the government and civil society representatives in Jammu and Kashmir, there is definitely something to ponder over within India, in the realms of both party politics and otherwise. Over 20 MPs from European countries comprising of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from Italy, Britain, France, Germany, and Poland are received in the curfew-stricken Kashmir valley. The formalities begin with the delegates visiting Army 15 Corps Headquarters at Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar for a briefing about the overall security situation including that along the LoC in J&K. They are likely to meet some residents, owners of houseboats, and some other delegations. A prominent aspect of this visit is that the MPs delegation is drawn mainly from far right parties. This is the first international group to visit Kashmir after the government's decision to scrap India's northern most state's special status granted under Article 370 and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The visiting parliamentarians are broadly anti-immigration in Italy, in favour of Brexit in the UK, and against migration and belong to Marine Le Pen's party in France, and the far-right and anti-establishment Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. Few of the visiting MPs, however, do belong to the Left or liberal parties. The European delegation proceeded to Kashmir valley after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. The PMO expressed through an official statement that, "PM Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Monday briefed the delegation and also discussed the issue of Kashmir and the situation there after the abrogation of Article 370. PM told the delegation that there should be zero tolerance for militancy. Expressing hope that the parliamentarians' visit to various parts of the country will be fruitful, Modi said the visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give them a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh." As expected, in the already tight security situation, the security has been beefed up further ahead of the visit of foreign delegation in Srinagar and elsewhere with adequate deployment of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and J&K police personnel in place to maintain law and order. Sources in the European Union mission in New Delhi inform that the Members of European Parliament were not an official delegation of the European Union and they are travelling in their private capacity.

The other most conspicuous aspect of this visit by foreigners is that the request of the opposition leaders in India to visit the valley to independently take stock of the situation was denied. Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor had proactively extended a proposal to visit Kashmir but the permission was not granted to effect. Congress stalwart Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the latest Opposition leader to criticise the Centre for allowing the delegation to visit the state but not permitting Indian leaders to move out of Srinagar airport, sarcastically calling it a "unique nationalism". The bigger question that rings loud is that of the Left parties: why are foreign delegation allowed in Jammu and Kashmir while Indian political parties prevented. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday told the delegation that urgent action was needed against those supporting and sponsoring terrorism. There are also unanswered questions as to why such a noble concern is not shared with Indian politicians when they seek the same ultimate goal of peace and stability in the northern region. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury questioned why members of the European Parliament were being "welcomed" in Jammu and Kashmir when Indian political leaders had been prevented from doing so. "Then why were Indian political party leaders and MPs repeatedly prevented from exiting Srinagar airport? I was allowed to enter Srinagar only when the Supreme Court permitted over my habeas corpus petition. Even today Indian MPs are not allowed while Modi welcomes MEPs!," Yechury expressed through a tweet. Yechury and CPI general secretary D Raja were not allowed to visit the state after the abrogation of Article 370 despite repeated attempts. Yechury was allowed to visit his ailing party colleague Yusuf Tarigami after the SC gave its go ahead on the condition that he would not be part of any political activity there. The involvement of the international community points to another aspect that has been quite literally blown out of proportion by Pakistan when it tried to leave no stone unturned to mobilise and consolidate international support against India for its unilateral internal move on Kashmir on August 5. In the words of Raja, "The fact that the Indian government is facilitating the visit of the EU delegation shows that this government is desperate and is under pressure to please the international community which has raised several questions on human rights violations in J&K. The government is desperate to convince the global community. While it says everything is normal in the region, the ground reality is different." Welcoming foreign delegation in Kashmir amounts to yet another level of internationalisation of the matter, albeit in the interest of India, but it is doubtful that this will be a good decision in the long-term perspective. Given that Chris Davies, Member of the European Parliament for North West England was invited to visit Kashmir Valley but was reportedly uninvited after he said he will only go to Kashmir if allowed to "travel freely". This itself is a loud and clear message.

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