MEPs’ visit to Jammu and Kashmir: Unmitigated disaster

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If the visit of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Srinagar was aimed at painting a picture of normalcy in the Kashmir Valley, then there is little doubt that it was an unmitigated disaster. The 27 European parliamentarians invited and sponsored -- only 23 chose to take up the offer in the end -- were carefully chosen. They were mostly far-right politicians and Islamophobes who were unlikely to see anything wrong with what has been happening in Kashmir since August 5, when the government ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under the Indian Constitution. The Valley has been under siege since then, with a heavy military presence and an array of rules restricting the mobility, communication and daily lives of Kashmiris. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth have been detained and senior leaders of political parties remain under detention. So far, leaders of India’s opposition parties have not been allowed to visit the Valley. Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury and others were turned back from Srinagar airport. Why the red-carpet treatment for the MEPs? 

The visiting MEPs were whisked from the airport in bullet-proof cars to their plush hotels. They went boating on the Dal Lake and took photographs of Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains. They did not mix with the local population. They would have seen empty streets under lockdown. At a press conference, they waxed eloquent on Kashmir’s scenic beauty, thanked the government for the hospitality, and extended their support to the “government’s efforts to end terror and bring lasting peace.” The visiting parliamentarians may be in sync with the Modi government’s approach but even they could not bring themselves to say that all is well in the Valley. 

It has come to light that the visit was ‘brokered’ by an unknown ‘think-tank’ with links to questionable institutions and publications in Delhi. Obviously, proximity to the ruling party landed them this gig. Is this the way a rising power conducts its international diplomacy? Concern over how events in Kashmir are being perceived outside is understandable to some extent but the best way this perception can be changed for the better is to improve the ground situation and to allow the media to report on events without fear. But more important that what the world thinks, it is how the people of Kashmir perceive the Modi government’s actions that matter. This is the big test that the government is afraid to face; hence its clampdown on and silencing of Kashmiris for almost three months now. This silencing must stop now, Kashmiris must be heard.

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