'Invite for foreign delegation's visit to Kashmir sent just one week ahead, list of invitees kept 'top secret',' says Indian origin British MP

Dinesh Dhamija, the Liberal Democrat MEP from London, told News18's Sanjay Suri that not many people were aware of the so-called private visit to Kashmir until a week before the tour took place.

FP Staff October 30, 2019 11:30:39 IST

The Member of European Parliaments' Kashmir visit, which has been mired in controversies in India, appears to have been the result of a mysterious invitation to a 'top secret' list of select people, another MEP who was extended the invite but did not partake in the delegation told News18. 

Dinesh Dhamija, the Liberal Democrat MEP from London, told News18's Sanjay Suri that not many people were aware of the so-called private visit to Kashmir until a week before the tour took place.

Dhamija said, "I was invited. There was a lady called Madi Sharma who invited me just about a week before the visit. But I had other things to do... I mean you give one week's notice, it is very difficult."

Invite for foreign delegations visit to Kashmir sent just one week ahead list of invitees kept top secret says Indian origin British MP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with a panel of EU delegations who are set to visit Kashmir tomorrow. ANI

"In fact the foreign office rang me up asking do you know anything about it, I said I do... and this lady.. and I had nothing to do with it," he added.

Dhamija at first denied knowing the affiliations of the woman who invited her, but when pressed further, he allowed that she runs a "pressure group", which "certainly has nothing to do with the European Parliament". Media reports identify the 'pressure group' as a Brussel's based non-profit group, Women's Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT). The group's bio on its LinkedIn page reads: "The Women's Eco-Nomic and Social Think Tank (WESTT) is a leading women's think tank focusing on the economic, environmental and social development of women. At the political level, it also lobbies to encourage the EU institutions to incorporate stronger human rights initiatives into their policies. (sic)" The think tank lists that it employs just one to ten people on the professional networking site.

A delegation of 27 parliamentarians of the European Union visited Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday to assess the ground situation in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. However, the first news about the plan broke Monday, less than 24 hours before the visit, when the members of the delegation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dhamija hinted that the Indian ambassador to the United Kingdom also may not have been privy to the details of this visit.

"I did ask Madame Gayatri Kumar, the Indian ambassador, about the visit and she didn't know much about it too," Dhamija said.

What is further expected to stir up controversy in India is the absolute secrecy preceding the visit. The nature and name of the organisation facilitating it, the criterion based on which the MEPs were selected and approached, remain unknown; why such an important first-of-a-kind foreign visit was facilitated at such a short notice is also something that remains unanswered.

When asked if Dhamija knew others who had been extended a similar invite, he said, "I did ask for a list, but I was told it was top secret. I know one person, Bill Newton Dunn, who was from our delegation (Liberal Democrat party). He has gone. That's about it."

Dhamija referred to the way Pakistan had conducted similar visits of foreign delegations to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

"Pakistanis did a lot before. They took a lot of people to the Pakistani side of Kashmir. And I think it is a good thing that India is doing," he said.

He, however, added that it was an "unofficial visit."

"It is certainly welcome, but I wish we had known that they were doing this then we would have sent other people. And I would have gone too. I mean you give one week's notice, it is very difficult."

Dhamija's comments come in the backdrop of reports that invitation extended to another British MEP was withdrawn after he expressed wishes to travel unaccompanied in the Valley.

Chris Davies, Member of the European Parliament for North West England, reported that his invitation was withdrawn after he laid the condition that he wishes to travel unaccompanied by the Indian security forces.

"On October 8, I told WESTT that I was happy to accept the invitation on the condition that during my time in Kashmir, I would be free to go wherever I wish, and talk to whoever I wish, unaccompanied by military, police or security forces but accompanied by journalists," he said.

But Davies claims the invitation was "promptly withdrawn with little explanation" after he insisted he must be free to talk with local people.

"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," the Conservative MP said.

His office said that the MEP would like to visit the region at a future date as he represents the North West of England, which has thousands of constituents of Kashmiri heritage with many having relatives in Kashmir. "Communication difficulties with families is just as one of the issues that has been raised with him," a spokesperson said.

The EU delegation's visit is the first that India has allowed for a foreign delegation to the Valley since 5 August when Jammu and Kashmir's special status was revoked by the Indian government. India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter.

With inputs from agencies

 

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