“It’s a PR stunt”, says Europe about MEPs visiting Kashmir today

They neither represent the European Union nor the governments in their country. Credibility of Kashmir-bound MEPs is widely being questioned even in Europe

PM Modi with the delegation of EU parliamentarians whom the government has invited to visit Kashmir
PM Modi with the delegation of EU parliamentarians whom the government has invited to visit Kashmir

Hasan Suroor

Indian Government’s attempt to use a group of visiting European Members of Parliament (MEPs) to gain international legitimacy for its actions in Kashmir has been met with some irritation here and in Brussels.

The EU has officially distanced itself from their visit and made clear that they are on private business with no authorisation from Brussels. Some in EU were not even aware of the visit until they read about it in the Indian media. Speculation over the motive behind New Delhi’s move has been fuelled by the fact that Indian MPs and the media are still banned from visiting Kashmir.

It’s significant that the nearly 30-strong group —six each from Poland and France, five from UK, four from Italy, two from Germany, and one each from the Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain, Slovakia, among others—is almost wholly composed of right-wing Eurosceptic parties. Five of the six British MEPs are from the far-right and xenophobic Brexit Party; and even the sole Liberal Democrat MEP, Bill Newton Dunn, is a former Tory and switched to Lib Dems following differences over Europe.

Similarly, all the six Polish MEPs are from the notoriously rightist Justice and Law party which is facing sanctions from EU for being allegedly in breach of its basic values. MEPs from France, Italy, Germany and Belgium are all drawn from right-wing nationalist parties—European version of BJP.

One of the persons behind this PR diplomacy is Dinesh Dhamija who describes himself as “chair of a delegation of MEPs assigned specifi cally to help international relations with India”. He has defended Modi’s actions in Kashmir and claimed credit for restraining EU from “interfering” in India’s internal affairs.

“Some accused the Indian Prime Minister of behaving like an autocrat. Yet regardless of what we might think, we must not forget that this was a decision taken by the largest democracy in the world,” he wrote in The Brussels Times arguing that Modi had simply delivered one of his party’s “key election pledges”. Warning against “the temptation in the European community is to wade in on the issue”, he asked: how would “Ireland feel if another power tried to interfere in the issue of the Irish border?”

New Delhi is in for disappointment if it is hoping that a “good character certificate” from a motley group of far-right parliamentarians will change EU’s official view of Narendra Modi’s decision to revoke Article 370, and his government’s subsequent heavy-handed response to the situation in the region.

The EU has publicly expressed concern over its human rights implications with Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini describing “restrictions on fundamental freedoms” of ordinary people as a matter of deep worry.

“It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication are fully restored as well as access to all essential services,” she has said. A view echoed in Britain.

According to observers, those concerns remain and will not change as a result of the MEPs’ visit which is seen as a PR stunt. The MEPs in question lack credibility in that they don’t represent either the EU or the governments of the countries they come. “A bunch of self-important freelancers”, is how one source described them. There’s a great deal of scepticism as to whether they even understand the complexities of the Kashmir issue.

As Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, who was barred from entering Srinagar, tweeted: “MPs from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu & Party MP, Shashi Tharoor called it “insult to Indian democracy”.

“My request, made during the Lok Sabha debate on Article 370, for an All-Party delegation of MPs to visit to see the situation for themselves, has still not been accepted. But members of the European Parliament can travel as our Government's guests? What #anInsultToIndiaDemocracy!", he tweeted.

New Delhi is advertising the visit as an opportunity for EU parliamentarians to get “a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.” As bonus, it would offer them “a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region,” an official statement said.

But, apparently, like all good cynical politicians, the visitors are taking it all with a pinch of salt. They know they will be allowed to see only what the government wants them to see.

“We are going to see the situation in Kashmir, at least what they want to show us", Thierry Mariani of France's far-right National Rally, told AFP.

While the official European reaction has been somewhat muted, behind the diplomatic restraint there’s deep concern.

“It was no coincidence that India decided to revoke the status of Kashmir in August when parliaments around the world were in recess and there was no-one in EU who could react,” said Britain’s Liberal MEP Phil Bennion as pressure mounts for EU to take a harder stand. “It should send a strong signal to India,” said another MEP Shaffaq Muhammed.

The fact is that in inviting the MEPs, the Modi Government has borrowed the oldest trick from the book of authoritarian regimes to appear transparent in the face of criticism of their actions. Old communist regimes used to be particularly good at it.

The trick was to invite a group of friendly “independent” foreign observers with zero knowledge of local conditions or politics to visit a troubled area ostensibly to see things for themselves. In effect, these “fact-finding” missions were anything but that...They were actually closely-monitored and heavily tutored conducted tours designed to present a sanitised picture of a difficult situation on the ground.

Today’s visit will be no different. And for once, nobody is fooled.

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Published: 29 Oct 2019, 12:49 PM