Representatives of extreme right-wing parties, members of the European Parliament are visiting the Kashmir valley today as the first international delegation since the government abrogated its special status and imposed a clampdown.
While the Ministry of External Affairs has categorically denied any involvement in the event, the European Parliament and the European Union’s hierarchy have also distanced themselves from it stating that they have come to India in their “personal capacity”.
Several European embassies in New Delhi were unaware of the visit until Monday when PM Narendra Modi posted a picture posing with the 23-strong-team accompanied with an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office saying, “PM Modi expressed the hope that the Members in the European Parliament (MEPs) have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including Jammu & Kashmir. Their visit to Jammu & 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.”
However, the group deemed a “delegation of MEPs” has not been sent or approved by the European Union. “This is not on an official visit and they came here at the invitation of a non-government group,” said an EU official in India, speaking on condition of anonymity, France24 reported. “We are not organising any of their meetings”, the official added.
Thierry Mariani, a Euro MP for France’s far-right National Rally, told AFP, “We are going to see the situation in Kashmir, at least what they want to show us”.
About The Delegates
While the Indian Prime Minister’s Office elucidated the particulars of his meeting on the website, it is interesting to note that the 23 members of European Parliament belong to anti-immigrant, Euro-sceptic, Islamophobic, racist, right-wing populist parties.
Alice Wiedel, a part of the ‘delegation’ is a leader of Germany’s far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). During the 2017 polls, she said that the arrival of more than a million refugees had made the country “a safe haven for criminals and terrorists”, and openly lesbian herself, she said that those who attacked homosexuals were “always the same”, that is, “people with Muslim backgrounds, Arabs”.
Two people from AfD are a part of the unofficial delegation.
Matteo Salvini, a member of the group, is from the populist party Lega Nord or simply Lega. He, while serving as the Deputy Prime Minister from 1st June 2018 to 5th September 2019, likened African immigrants to slaves in a 2018 conference in Vienna on security and migration.
Two representatives from Lega, including Salvini, are included in the group.
France’s National Rally’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, rebranded her party in 2018 by changing its name as it was earlier Front National. This was her effort to move towards a more populist and anti-immigrant position and away from the anti-Semitic and racist sentiments the party’s former leader, her own father, was known to have. However, she has given several anti-immigrant statements forgetting that her own country was a colonizer and co-responsible for the enslavement of West Africans. She has also given anti-Islam statements before and is slated to visit India’s only state with a formidable Muslim majority with other Euro MPs.
Six members of the group are part of France’s National Rally.
Five are from Poland’s national-conservative Christian democratic and right-wing populist political party – Prawo i Sprawiedliwość.
Four belong to the United Kingdom’s conservative and anti-immigrant Brexit Party.
Among others in the group are leaders of the Czech Republic’s centre-right Christian and Democratic Union party known as Czechoslovak People’s Party; Vlaams Belang, a far-right party in Belgium which stands for Flemish nationalism and opposes multiculturalism; Spain’s far-right party VOX which has always stood against the Catalonian call for independence.
All the parties named are also known for making racist, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic remarks.
And interestingly, as reported by Scroll, the European Parliament has an official “Delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia” and only France’s Thierry Mariani and the Czech Republic’s Tomas Zdechovsky are “substitute” members of the official delegation.
Although unsanctioned by the EU itself, this delegation does not comprise of people listed by the organisation as experts or relationship-builders with South Asian countries.
Indian Politicians And Journos Shunned
The Modi-led government has made concerted efforts to keep political leaders out of the region while putting all of Jammu and Kashmir’s native political leadership in detention since the evening of August 4th.
Yesterday’s development, that was unknown to the government’s own Ministry of External Affairs, shocked the opposition of the country as they called it out of its hypocritical and post-colonial hangover-ish nature.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh questioned the Centre’s move, saying it was an “outright insult” to the Parliament and Indian democracy.
Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill asked why the European leaders’ visit was being welcomed.
Congress leader Anand Sharma, who is the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee in the Rajya Sabha on Home Affairs called out the government for going back on its own stance that any issue related to Jammu and Kashmir was India’s internal matter. By involving foreign nationals and politicians in what has been consistently called an “internal matter” while barring and restricting Indian nationals, including Kashmiris, from freely travelling to fro and across the region, the Centre was disrespecting the sovereignty of India which is a founding value of the Indian Constitution.
Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) raised the same question. “I was allowed to enter Srinagar only when the Supreme Court permitted over my habeas corpus petition,” he tweeted. “Even today Indian MPs are not allowed while Modi welcomes MEPs!”
Yechury could visit his ailing party colleague Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami in Srinagar, who is in detention, only after the Supreme Court allowed him to travel to the state on August 29. When the CPI(M) leader and Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja tried to visit him earlier, they had been sent back from Srinagar airport to Delhi earlier that month.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy also joined the Opposition in its sharp criticism. He called his own party’s decision a “perversion of the national policy” and an “immoral act”.
On the 24th of August, a delegation of opposition leaders led by Rahul Gandhi was sent back from Srinagar airport when they attempted to reach their detained colleagues in Kashmir.
Even Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Rajya Sabha member and an elected representative of the state was stopped at the airport from going to his home in Kashmir, on the 20th of August. Only after the SC’s intervention in September this year, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who represents Jammu and Kashmir in Rajya Sabha, was ‘allowed’ to visit Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramullah and Jammu districts to inquire about the welfare of the people in the Valley.
Earlier this month, the United States Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Democratic Party, was denied permission to visit Kashmir to see the situation “first-hand”. When Van Hollen approached the Indian government for permission he was reportedly told: “It was not the right time to go there”.
Van Hollen, who represents Maryland in the Senate, is one of almost 50 members of the Congress to have expressed concern about the clampdown in Kashmir.
Authorities have also refused to allow any foreign journalists, officials or diplomats to travel to the Valley. Local journalists have also complained about the interference of the government in their work and alleged that the military personnel force them to delete footage that they capture while on duty.
Dissent With The EU Group Quelled
The team originally comprised 27 parliamentarians, mostly from the extreme right or right-wing parties, was reduced to 23 as four of them did not travel to Kashmir and have reportedly returned to their respective countries, National Herald reported.
Liberal Democrat Member in the European Parliament, Chris Davies told the media today that his invitation to visit Kashmir was withdrawn without any clarification after he asked for permission to interact with locals without any security personnel escorting him.
Will The Humanitarian Crisis Be Addressed?
There have been seven independent teams that have published fact-finding reports on the ground reality in J&K. Politician and activist Kavita Krishnan and Economist Jean Drèze were the first to report the illegal detention of minors in the valley and the J&K police officially admitted on October 1 that they had detained over 144 minors since August 5th.
Whether the European visitors ask the government about the detention of politicians, slapping pro-India Farooq Abdullah with PSA, illegal detention of minors and about the accusations that the Indian Army has been torturing civilians in South Kashmir, or simply why a decision claimed to be taken for the good of the native announced while putting them under lockdown which still continues for the 86th day – is something that would be known after their high-profile visit concludes.
Also Read: Minors’ Detentions, Torture & Humiliation Over 370 In Kashmir, Says Another Fact-Finding Report