Modi’s PR disaster shows India not ready for independent scrutiny in Kashmir: Chris Davies

Chris Davies, the British Liberal MP, voices his concern over the situation in Kashmir and questions the Modi Govt’s attempts at pulling off a PR stunt by inviting Members of EU on a conducted trip

Chris Davies, the British Liberal Democratic MP
Chris Davies, the British Liberal Democratic MP

Ashis Ray

The four key points made in his statement by Chris Davies on Tuesday were :

  • "I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It is very clear that democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir, and the world needs to start taking notice.
  • "What is it that the Indian government has to hide? Why will it not give journalists and visiting politicians free access to speak with local people?
  • "I represent thousands of people in the North West of England who have family associations with Kashmir. They want to be able to speak freely to their relatives. They want their voices to be heard.
  • "I fear that this is not going to end well. Governments do not win the hearts and minds of people by taking away their freedoms and imposing military rule. The risk of a violent backlash is all too evident.”

Davies candidly replied to questions put to him by Ashis Ray for the National Herald. Excerpts from the interview:

What was your reaction when they Indian officials said they were withdrawing your invitation?

I was not surprised. From the very first moment the visit sounded to me like a PR stunt intended to bolster Narendra Modi. I think the actions of the government of India in Kashmir are betraying the best principles of a great democracy, and I believe the less notice that the rest of the world pays to the situation the more pleased they will be.

What are your thoughts and reaction to whatever is happening in Kashmir?

The wording of your question highlights the problem. We are not sure about "whatever" is happening in Kashmir, but we do hear of imprisonments, media controls, severe communications restrictions, and military occupation. Whatever sympathies there may be for the actions of the government should be tempered by concern that it is also strongly influenced by sectarian bias. Muslims are likely to see Hindu nationalism as being instrumental, and this does not bode well for the future. The importance of peace between nations seems to be increasingly irrelevant these days.

What are your thoughts on the recent Kashmir protests that happened in London where the High Commission of India and some Indians were attacked with eggs, tomatoes, frozen water bottles and stones?

I absolutely support the right to peaceful protests. It's an important part of a democracy and I have been to many protests over the years. Just a couple of weeks ago marched alongside a million other people in support of a 'People's Vote' to stop Brexit. Any use of missiles that can inflict harm is unlawful and wrong and any abuse, intimidation or attacks at a peaceful protest are very worrying.

Do you think such protests in the UK will help achieve anything?

Very little, not least because our citizens of Indian sub-continent ancestry are divided in their opinions, and the U.K. is the formal colonial power and can be blamed for a great deal including some of the origins of the problem that has led to this situation. The Brexit situation weakens our influence day by day, leaving us unable to play our part in shaping EU policy on the issue. We must do what we can to highlight global issues and I use my platform in the European Parliament to do this as much as I can.

Why were you interested in visiting Kashmir?

I represent the North West of England, and tens of thousands of my constituents are of Kashmiri heritage and a great many have relatives in Kashmir. Communication difficulties with families is just as one of the issues that has been raised with me. It is an important that I represent everyone in the North West and there is no doubt this is an issue that affects many people here.

We are being told most of the MEPs invited were far right. Do you know who else were invited?

I do not know who else was included in the invitation, but I am conscious that views in the European Parliament are divided and that the Modi government's actions have supporters as well as critics.

What were you hoping this trip of yours would help achieve?

I would have liked it to demonstrate that fundamental freedoms have been re-established in the Kashmir Valley with no restrictions on the movement of individuals, the expression of opinions, or the right to peaceful protest. But to be honest I never believed that this would prove to be the case so in part this was a test of whether the Indian government was prepared to allow its actions to be subject to independent scrutiny.

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