The visit of 27 members of the European Parliament to J&K, sponsored by a think tank in Delhi and blessed by the government, raises several questions. For a start, the government does not allow the same privilege to Indian parliamentarians and veteran political leaders, many of whom have been prevented from visiting the Valley ever since the August 5 decision to abrogate Kashmir’s special status. Rahul Gandhi, MP, was turned back from Srinagar airport. Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who also belongs to J&K, was sent back from the Srinagar airport three times, and was finally permitted by the Supreme Court. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury also went with the permission of the court, while Yashwant Sinha, a former finance minister of the country, was sent back from Srinagar airport. Another member of Parliament, and former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, has been under house arrest in Kashmir since August 5.
What is also problematic is that these MEPs are not an official delegation. On this visit, they are not representing Europe or their own countries, or even their constituencies. They are in this delegation in their “personal capacity”. What exactly, then, is their business in Kashmir? It can also be said with certainty that an official European parliamentary delegation would not have been comprised of a majority from the right wing political parties that now dot Europe, whose politics ranges from admiration for Nazism to anti-immigration to Islamophobia. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed them with the hope that their visit to J&K “should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”, the only thing missing was a sense of irony.
If the idea was to impress upon the world that the government is not blocking foreign dignitaries from visiting Kashmir, as was pointed out at the US Congressional hearing, this delegation is not going to serve the purpose. As if to underline that, on the same day as the MEPs’ visit, the United Nations expressed concern for the people of J&K, and asked India to restore their rights. Certificates from an apparently handpicked European delegation will do nothing to paper over the fact that the government first pushed through its decisions by imposing a communications blockade, and has then been slow to lift the curbs and restrictions on the people’s right to free speech and freedom of association, or that it continues to detain a large number of political representatives in the Valley. The true test for the government’s August 5 decision lies in how the people of Kashmir view it.