Weeks after a US Congressman was denied permission by the government to visit Jammu and Kashmir, a delegation of 27 members of the European Parliament is set to visit the state Tuesday.
Members of European Parliament (MEPs) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence Monday, and were briefed separately by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
The Prime Minister, while welcoming the delegation to India, “expressed the hope that they have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including to Jammu and Kashmir,” a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“Their visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, apart from giving them a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region,” the PMO statement said.
Sources in the European Union mission in New Delhi said the MEPs are not an official delegation of the EU, but are travelling in their private capacity.
Opposition parties slammed the government for letting European Parliament members visit Kashmir while not permitting Indian Opposition leaders move out of Srinagar airport.
Congress leader Anand Sharma, also chairman of the Standing Committee on Home Ministry, told The Indian Express: “This is the ultimate disrespect to Indian Parliament and breach of our privileges. When we, as an all-party delegation, leaders of the Opposition parties and MPs, went to Srinagar… we were detained at the airport itself and never allowed to even step out or meet any Kashmiri. Our privileges were violated. And until this day, the government has not briefed Parliament. Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has not been briefed till date… But the government prefers briefing EU MPs. This stand of the government is self-defeating and contradicts our consistent position that J&K is India’s internal matter.”
Following their interaction with the Prime Minister, Bill Newton Dunn, MEP from the UK, told The Indian Express that the delegation decided to visit New Delhi since there are “good relations between the EU and India”, and also to “try to understand the situation in Jammu and Kashmir”.
“We had an excellent and cordial meeting with the Prime Minister. We are from different European countries and different political parties,” Dunn said. “He (Modi) talked to us about the achievements since 2014 and his ambitious plans for the future, including Indian problems, and also climate change and pollution.”
“We did not discuss Kashmir with him, but afterwards had a 30-minute briefing about Kashmir with questions with his Security Advisor, which was valuable and interesting,” Dunn, from the Liberal Democrats in the UK, said.
The visit, he said, was organised by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies in New Delhi.
The website of the institute describes it as an international organisation, founded on September 19, 1980. “It was established to project and highlight the convictions of the peoples of the non-aligned world. IINS has provided a platform to voice the viewpoint of billions of people of the third world,” it said. There are no details of its office-bearers or leadership on the website.
The visit comes weeks after a key US Senator from the Democratic Party, Chris Van Hollen, was denied permission to visit Kashmir. At the US Congressional hearing last week, US Assistant Secretary of State Alice G Wells had said US diplomats were also denied permission to travel to J&K.
Last month, the European Parliament had discussed the situation in J&K, where the EU had expressed concern about the situation on the ground in J&K and “restrictions on fundamental freedoms”. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had visited Finland, the current EU chair.
On Monday, Anand Sharma, critical of the government’s decision to let MEPs visit Kashmir while denying permission earlier to an all-party delegation which wanted to interact with people in the Valley, said the Opposition will raise the issue in Parliament when it reopens in November for the winter session.
Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “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!”.
CPM’s Sitaram Yechury too attacked the government. “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!” he tweeted.
CPI’s D Raja attacked the government saying it itself is internationalising the Kashmir issue and asked “what kind of policy is this government pursuing”.
“In the morning, it was said it was an unofficial visit. Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met the delegation. He has expressed happiness that the delegation can go and see the diversity of J&K. It means the government itself is facilitating the visit of the European Union delegation. This has raised several questions,” Raja said.
Meanwhile, a group of Kashmiri politicians, businessmen and civil society members met the MEPs at a lunch hosted by NSA Doval in New Delhi. In the group were PDP’s Muzaffar Hussain Beig, former Congress legislator Usman Majeed and BJP’s Khalid Jehangir.
“We have to tell the story of our pain,” Beig told The Indian Express. “I was not representing PDP (there). I was invited in individual capacity.”
Majeed said: “We discussed the current situation in Kashmir and nothing else. We told them why people are angry. We told them everything. They will see it themselves tomorrow.” He too said he was there as “an individual” and not as a Congress leader.
Jehangir said they discussed the Kashmir situation but he would reveal it to the media only on November 8. He said he met the delegation as a “Kashmiri” and not as a member of the party.
Businessman Sandeep Chattoo, who is also co-owner of the Real Kashmir Football Club, said they discussed their club with the delegation. “I have no idea what the whole delegation was all about. All we discussed was our club, nothing else. No question was asked about the Kashmir situation. It was a kind of a get-together.