EU MPs end Valley tour amid criticism by Opposition
The group said Article 370, which bestowed special status on Jammu & Kashmir and was scrapped on August 5 by New Delhi, was India’s internal matter and that the lawmakers were more concerned about terrorism.Updated: Oct 31, 2019 00:53 IST
A controversial visit by 23 European lawmakers to Kashmir ended on Wednesday with the group backing India in its fight against terror even as criticism mounted over the trip’s obscure organiser and complaints that the delegation had not met genuine representatives of the people.
The group said Article 370, which bestowed special status on Jammu & Kashmir and was scrapped on August 5 by New Delhi, was India’s internal matter and that the lawmakers were more concerned about terrorism.
“What concerns us is terrorism which is a global menace and we should stand with India in fighting it,” said Henri Malosse, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from France, also condemning the killing of six migrant workers in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Tuesday after the delegation reached the region.
Newton Dunn from the United Kingdom described the visit as an “eye-opener”.
“We belong to a place — Europe — which is peaceful after years of fighting. And we want to see India becoming the most peaceful country in the world. And for that we need to stand by India in its fight against global terrorism. This visit has been an eye opener and we would definitely advocate what we have seen on Ground Zero,” he told reporters.
India will find it difficult to end terrorism in the Valley because of Pakistan, but if scrapping of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir brings development to the region and a “better life” for its people, it is worth giving it a try, Malosse said.
Another MEP, Nicolaus Fest from Germany, struck a discordant note and said the government should allow Indian opposition members to visit Kashmir as well if it was willing to permit EU parliamentarians to travel to the region, echoing criticism by leaders of the Congress and other parties.
“I think if you let in European Union parliamentarians, you should also let in opposition politicians from India. So there is some kind of disbalance, the government should somehow address it,” he told news agency ANI.
The visit was the first to Jammu & Kashmir by a foreign delegation since the Centre moved in August to divest the state of its special status and bifurcate it into two Union territories — J&K and Ladakh — and enforced restrictions on public movement and telecommunications; some of the curbs have since been eased.
The trip has been mired in controversy, especially after it was revealed that many members of the group belonged to far-right parties and a prominent British MEP alleged that an invitation issued to him was rescinded after he insisted on moving freely in the Valley.
The Congress continued its attack on the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met the EU group on Monday. The lawmakers also met national security adviser Ajit Doval.
“Over last three days, India witnessed an immature, ill-advised and ill-conceived PR exercise of BJP government organised by an ‘International Business Broker’, in which 27 members of European Parliament were brought to India by a non-descript think tank with questionable credentials to meet with the Prime Minister, visit Kashmir and hold press briefing,” Congress party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in Delhi.
“Will the Prime Minister tell us who is Madi Sharma,” Surjewala added, referring to the woman identified as the organiser of the trip. “What is the connection of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] to Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank [WESTT] as also to the International Institute for Non-aligned Studies [IINS]?”.
Sharma heads WESTT. She was unavailable for comment. Officials from the EU have already clarified that the MEPs were touring India in a personal capacity.
Some of the MEPs dismissed criticism about their affiliation to right-wing parties. MEP from Poland Ryszard Czarnecki said the international media coverage seemed biased. “Once we go back to our countries we will inform them of what we saw,” he said.
Maloose expressed shock saying that the delegates were being labelled as “Islamophobics”, “fascists” and “racists”.
On Tuesday, the group visited the Badami Bagh cantonment headquarters of Indian Army’s 15 Corps immediately after their arrival in Srinagar. Lt General KJS Dhillon, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 15 Corps, briefed the delegation for two hours.
Members of civil society, traders, lawyers, artisans and people connected with the tourism industry also called on the group. The delegates went on a Shikara (boat ride) on the Dal Lake in the evening.
In the Valley, the visit evoked mixed responses with many groups, such as the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, saying they had not been invited to meet the lawmakers. Even Wednesday’s press conference was closed to many members of the press.
A state government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the whole process was being “managed from Delhi”. “We were informed about the visit at the last moment,” he said.
Members of mainstream Kashmiri political parties such as the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party also pointed out that they had not been invited to meet the delegates.