A group of 27 European Union lawmakers is in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday to observe the situation in the restive following the government's decision to divide the administration of the state into Ladakh region and Jammu and Kashmir as two separate Union Territories, while stripping the state of its temporary special status, promised under the Instrument of Accession to India.
This is the first visit by a foreign delegation to Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August. They seek to talk to locals in Jammu and Kashmir and ask them about their experience. The government has said the diplomatic outreach will allow EU leaders to "see things for themselves" in Kashmir and help it counter Pakistan's narrative.
However, the visit has come under much criticism here at home as Opposition and Kashmiri politicians called it a ploy to peddle the government's theory of normalcy. From Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti's daughter, who currently tweets on her behalf as the PDP chief remains under State custody, claimed that the timing of the visit was strategically matched with board exams of 60,000 Kashmiri students, who are usually at the forefront of protests against Indian forces. The Congress, on the other hand, remarked how the government could manage to take in a foreigners' delegation but not allow Indian parliamentarians to visit the state. The grand old party also slammed Modi for bringing in 'outsiders' and 'compromising' India's policy on Kashmir that it is strictly an internal matter.
Many also commented on the composition of the 'handpicked', unofficial panel, which arguably leans heavily towards the Right and hold anti-immigration views. According to reports, in all, 22 of the 27 members of European Parliament (MEPs) are Right-wing politicians in their home countries.
Theresa Griffin, the EU Member of Parliament from North West of England, tweeted:
To be absolutely clear - the group of far-right MEPs currently visiting #Kashmir are not in any way an "official" delegation. They do not speak for the European Parliament. The shutdown in Kashmir must be ended and constitutional rule of law restored. https://t.co/e6bVILYm8a
— Theresa Griffin MEP (@TheresaMEP) October 29, 2019
While Italy's Fulvio Martusciello, Gianna Gancia and another member have voiced their opinion against immigrants, there's a parliamentarian from Poland who was sacked from the EU Vice-President's post for making a slur with Nazi connotations and a French lawmaker who supported the Russian annexation of Crimea.
However, a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official told The Hindu that other foreign groups may also be facilitated with a visit to Kashmir and ruled out any political bias in the invitations that went out, adding that they were "identified on the basis of their convenience to visit".
Meanwhile, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi went as far as to dub everyone on the panel 'Islamophobes' and Nazi lovers. Here is a broad profile on the parties from which these MEPs are, focussing on their stance on key issues like immigration, economy and human rights to understand their political leanings.
France: Rassemblement party (National Rally Party)
Recognised as a far-right party locally in France, the National Rally has been struggling to shed its image of a political pariah and settle into the mainstream. The party's chief Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is notorious for his heavily racist comments, such as calling the Nazi gas chambers a "detail of history." Jean was also the founder of the party formerly known as the National Front but has since been rebranded to tone down its ultra-nationalist, anti-Islamic image.
Marine's party, now called Rassemblement party, has watered down its narrative on European Union and immigration in general, but elections are still fought and won on extreme planks.
Foreign Policy, in an article recording mainstreaming of the party long recognised as 'xenophobic and racist', details some of the political narratives peddled by the party leaders who also managed to win elections. "Julien Sanchez, who in 2014 became mayor of Beaucaire, in southern France, has pushed to make pork a requirement in school cafeterias, targeting Muslims and Jews; Robert Ménard, an Independent elected with the party's backing, has called Islam "insoluble in democracy," launched an offensive against kebab shops, and recently barred hijab-wearing women from participating in a wellness festival; David Rachline, who was just 26 when he was elected mayor of the southeastern city of Fréjus in 2014, pledged to halt construction of a new mosque and cut funding to nonprofit organisations serving Muslims."
The National Rally Party is sending six MEPs to the delegation.
Poland: Law and Justice Party
Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) recently earned a second term in power. An article in The Guardian defines PiS' political policy as one to steamroll Opposition in Parliament with its brute majority and as a semi-authoritarian regime that has time and again tried to exert control over the Polish judiciary. The article suggests that the party is not much liked in the EU circles either with "European diplomats admitting in private that many in Brussels had hoped the problem would be taken out of their hands by Polish voters."
The PiS-led administration is also among the most conservative governments in Europe on social issues, such as LGBT equality and abortion rights. "With support from the Roman Catholic Church, PiS ran a persistent campaign presenting gay people as a threat to the family, especially children," World Politics Review reported.
Detailing the party's view on Islam, an academic paper by Agnieszka Dudzińska and Michał Kotnarowski notes that the Polish right has been driving the political narrative around Islam too much as compared to the group's population — at less than 0.1 percent. Although not outrightly Islamophobic, PiS likes to maintain a subtle undercurrent of anti-immigrant narrative to drive its poll agenda. The paper suggests that Muslims are Poland’s least accepted ethnic or religious group compared with Jews and Roma. The PiS, meanwhile, is anti-immigration, insisting that the refugees are Europe's problem and Poland's. The paper, through a survey, notes that the Polish right-wing is opposed specifically to Muslim immigration as compared to refugees from other ethnic groups.
It found that supporters of the political right believe that welcoming Muslims would harm Poland culturally, arguing that significant cultural differences would make assimilation of Muslims in Catholic Poland difficult or even impossible. "Maintaining a fear of Islam encourages the PiS government to continue refusing refugees from other EU countries." the paper notes.
The Law and Justice Party has sent five MEPs to Kashmir.
Britain: Brexit Party
Branded a 'Eurosceptic', the Brexit Party is the newest among various political organisations that are part of the delegation. Just six weeks after it was launched, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party dug up Britain’s political landscape by topping the polls in the UK’s European Parliament election, gaining 29 MEPs across the country.
Born in the run-up to conundrum preceding the Brexit vote, the party has one and only one agenda: to provide an alternative to the two-party system, and take Britain out of the European Union. However, beyond achieving a hard Brexit, there is little material available on the party's worldview and policies.
A look at the party’s website offers no clues, with no information about its ideology beyond a single reference to "uphold democracy and change politics for good" because the two-party system has "just not worked".
However, the party's "owner and CEO" (not elected president) Nigel Farage is known to have helped in Donald trump's presidential campaign. On a rare occasion that Farage did air his views on Islam, this is what he had to say: "The worry about Islamism is that those who adhere to that in the UK don’t accept UK culture, don’t accept UK law. They want to impose their version of the world upon the host country. And that would lead us toward disaster. It doesn’t work. I’m very specific that I’m not against the religion, I’m not against Islam. There is a danger that if the right goes too far to the right it starts to become confrontational."
Farage, however, has quit Ukip, his party of 25 years, saying the party he led to its greatest election successes was now unrecognisable because of the "fixation" with the anti-Muslim policies of its leader, Gerard Batten. We couldn't find the party's stated policy is on Kashmir or India.
The Brexit Party has sent four MEPs to Kashmir.
Italy: Forza Italia (Forward Italy)
According to an article in The Local, Forza Italia is a much liberal version of its older self after conservative pockets within the party broke into various factions. The party is much more pro-EU and it supports close relations with both Russia and the United States.
It's pro-business and is supportive of low tax rates for business owners and the wealthy. However, anti-immigration sentiments remains a common thread here. The party's leader has attacked the EU on migration, with the party leader pledging to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from the country if successful in the election and to block new arrivals.
Party's leader and the four-time prime minister had in the past claimed Islam to be inferior to Western culture.
"We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilisation, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries," he said.
In 2008, he described Italy's judiciary as a "cancerous growth".
Forza Italia has sent two MEPs to Kashmir.
Italy: Lega Nord
Recognised for its hardline anti-migration policy, the Northern League, or Lega Nord has propagated an anti-refugee narrative since inception.
During his campaign, the party's leader Matteo Salvini said that he would close mosques and not allow any new ones to open, adding that "Islam was incompatible with the constitution."
Islam isn't formally recognised in Italy, despite being the country's largest religious minority. While other religions have underwritten an accord with the Italian state, attempts to reach one for Islam have been inconclusive. As a result, mosques cannot receive public funds, religious holidays and weddings are not recognised, and there's no law governing the establishment of places of worship, Al Jazeera reported.
He has also said that if nationalist parties like his own do not triumph in elections then Europe would eventually become an Islamic caliphate.
Salvini has made plans to count Italy's Roma community and to deport those who do not have Italian nationality according to AFP. This census plan was called "racist" and "fascist" by opposition members in the Italian parliament. He has also claimed that Islam is incompatible with Italy's values and freedoms and that he does not want Italy to end up like Great Britain, "which has Islamic courts instead of British courts," according to the Daily Telegraph.
It was Salvini, who as interior minister, turned away a boatload of more than 600 African refugees on a ship named Aquarius operated by the not-for-profit organisation SOS Méditerranée. While the move attracted international condemnation, it greatly boosted Salvini’s standing in Italy.
Under Salvini’s leadership, the Lega went from 4 percent of the vote to 18 percent, surpassing Silvio Berlusconi’s party and winning a place as an equal partner in a coalition government with the other big winner, the Five Star Movement
The Lega Nord has sent two MEPs to Kashmir.
Germany: Alternative Fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany)
Anti-immigrant populist party Alternative Fur Deutschland, beat Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) to second place in an election in the East German state of Thuringia on Monday. It's leader Björn Höcke is considered Germany’s most controversial politician, who has been accused of stoking hatred with anti-Jewish rhetoric.
"The AfD was formed in 2014 as an anti-establishment force opposed to the euro. It quickly evolved to become an anti-immigrant party following the refugee crisis of 2015 when almost one million refugees arrived in Germany. More recently it has concentrated on highlighting the unjust treatment of eastern German citizens in the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall," The Guardian states describing its ideology.
The party’s campaign slogans before September 2018 general election included communal slurs like "Islam has no place in Germany" and "Against the Islamisation of Germany."
The party's base consists mostly of staunch critics of Islam and immigration. Frauke Petry, a former AfD head who was considered a moderate, argued in 2015 that officers should shoot migrants or refugees entering Germany, if necessary. Its political manifesto also includes various anti-Islam references. "The AfD [views Islam] as a great threat to our state, our society and our values, due to its spreading and the steadily growing number of Muslims," The Washington Post quoted the party's manifesto.
DW reported that the party although nominally favours a targeted immigration policy, party leader Alice Weidel has said the party wants to achieve "negative immigration" to Germany. It also argues that Germany is being "Islamified" and portrays itself as a bulwark for traditional Christian values.
Alternative Fur Deutschland has sent two MEPs to Kashmir.
Czech Republic: KDU-ČSL
Described as a Centre to Centre-Right party, KDU-ČSL states its ideology to be pro-Christian democracy, social conservatism and pro-Europeanism. The party is against immigration or accepting refugees even though the country does not belong to the group of countries hit by the wave of refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries suffering from long-term civil wars and other military conflicts. Two members in the delegation are from KDU-ČSL.
Belgium: Vlaams Belang
Belgium's Vlaams Belang is a rebranded version of erstwhile Vlaams Blok, which dissolved after a trial in 2004 condemned the party for racism. The Vlaams Blok then refounded itself as Vlaams Belang, seeking to bring itself into the mainstream by changing its image from a radical to a more conservative party. The party has been isolated for the past three decades from the political mainstream by an anti-extremist cordon sanitaire, meaning that other Belgian political parties have committed to excluding the party from any coalition government, even if that forced the formation of grand coalition governments between ideological rivals.
However, in the recently concluded elections, Vlaams Belang has managed to come second behind Belgium’s largest party, the right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which scored 24.8 percent. The party's previous version, Vlaams Blok, rose on a platform of extreme-right proposals such as abolishing "multicultural indoctrination" in schools, setting up a “foreigners' police” charged with tracking down illegal immigrants in Belgium, and a series of limitations on the rights of foreigners in the country.
However, its 'modernist' neo-conservative version too has been accused of flirting with racism and neo-Nazi ideology. According to an article in Politico, Dries Van Langenhove, an Independent backed by the party, was indicted in an investigation by Belgian public broadcaster VRT which found that Van Langenhove’s group was running blatantly anti-Semitic and racist online chatrooms on platforms like Facebook and the gaming app Discord — flirting with neo-Nazi ideology and memes linked to the US alt-right movement.
Vlaams Belang has two MEPs that are part of the Kashmiri delegation
Vox is described as a 'far-right' party in Spain that shot to prominence in recent elections after it bagged 24 seats, becoming the first party from its ideological leanings to win a seat in Parliament.
The Catalan government enjoyed autonomy and went on to unilaterally declare independence in 2017. Spaniards viewed this development as an attack against their country, and then Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as too soft on the Catalan separatists, who let things slip to a point where they organized a referendum on the region’s independence considered illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain.
Politico sums up Vox's political position in these words: "Vox argues that Spain’s political elite — in which it includes all mainstream parties — has imposed a post-modern, progressive dictatorship on the country under which you can’t speak out against a woman’s right to have an abortion, or gay marriage, multiculturalism, bans on bull fighting and restrictions on hunting. Efforts by so-called feminazis to achieve gender equality are also favorite targets of Vox’s supporters."
Vox, which managed to send MEPs in European parliament for the first time, has two members on the delegation.
Updated Date: Oct 29, 2019 17:47:23 IST