A delegation of 23 European Union MPs arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday, for a first-hand assessment of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, following the revocation of Article 370. “The delegation originally comprised of 27 leaders but four of them returned to their respective countries”, PTI reported. This is the first time the government allowed a foreign delegation to visit J&K, after the revocation of its special status on August 5th, 2019, through a Presidential Order and the passage of a resolution in Parliament.
It is important to note that the 23 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) who visited J&K were not invited by the Ministry of External Affairs, nor were they part of an official delegation of the European Parliament. They were specially invited by Madi Sharma, a Brussels-based person of Indian origin, on behalf of the Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT), an NGO she runs.
Sharma, who accompanied the 23 EU lawmakers to J&K, had reportedly sent out invitations to 30 MEPs, promising them “a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi” and a visit to Jammu and Kashmir. A screenshot of the invitation letter sent via email was released by Chris Davies, an MEP from Britain’s Liberal Democrats party, who refused to “join the PR stunt”.
In a rather controversial composition, 22 of the 27 MPs represent the right-wing or far-right parties in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. “They 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.”
Attracting opposition ire, the European Union parliamentarians, endorsing the government’s narrative, said that “Article 370 is an internal issue and they stand by the country in its fight against terrorism.”
The delegation expressed their regret over the killing of five non-Kashmiri workers by suspected militants in Kulgam on Tuesday; they were of the opinion that all problems of Kashmir are linked to terrorism. “If we talk about Article 370, it is India’s internal matter. What concerns us is terrorism which is a global menace and we should stand with India in fighting it. There was an unfortunate incident of killing of five innocent labourers by terrorists. We condemn it,” said Henri Malosse from France. “Kashmir is backward because of the situation. The message we got from the people we met was that there is hope that the change in status will help reverse the situation,” he added.
The delegation also expressed concerns over the need to ensure that Kashmir does not become the next Afghanistan. “Terrorists can destroy a country. I have been to Afghanistan and Syria and I have seen what terrorism has done. We stand with India in its fight against terrorism,” Thierry Mariani from France said. The delegation made it clear that it was not their intention to interfere in Indian politics, and that they visited the state to meet the common people.
While Newton Dunn from the UK described the visit as an “eye-opener”, adding that “the delegation would advocate what we have seen on ground zero”, Ryszard Czarnecki from Poland criticised the international media for being ‘biased’. At a time when opposition leaders and rights activists are being denied permission, one of the parliamentarians even vouched for the entry of Opposition leaders into the state. “I think if you let in European Union parliamentarians, you should also let in Opposition politicians from India,” Nicolaus Fest, of Alternative for Germany, was quoted as saying by ANI.
With the special status revoked, and New Delhi’s ‘War on Terror’ taken to the very core of the Valley, J&K is witnessing a shift in its overall social structure and political order. To preserve and safeguard “Kashmiriyat” should be the utmost priority of the government and fellow countrymen. More than ever, the call of Kashmir’s “most beloved son”, Agha Shahid Ali, needs to reach every ear in the country; “The world is full of paper, Write to me”, in a hope to be responded to with “Mad heart, be brave”.