Inviting European MPs to Kashmir while refusing entry to Opposition MPs is outlandish; precedent set is more so
There is a general scratching of heads and frowning in puzzlement, as 27 Members of European Parliament (MEP) make their way to Kashmir, travelling together, but not as a team
It is of concern is that the Indian government felt it necessary to sanction the visit at all
After all, entry being granted to a foreign group, while withholding the same to democratically-elected Indian politicians is bizarre
Further, after standing strong on the point that the whole was an internal matter, it's unclear why the government has now backtracked
There is a general scratching of heads and frowning in puzzlement as 27 Members of European Parliament (MEP) make their way to Kashmir, travelling together, but not as a team. In the complex world of diplomacy, this is not an EU delegation, but a bunch of people who happen to be European lawmakers. A rather more than usually alert media has pointed out that 22 of this group are from Far Right groups, which is supposed to indicate a bias against Kashmiris, or Muslims in general.
Such sources tend to forget that it was the European Union — most recently through its foreign affairs committee — that has been raising strong concerns on the situation in Kashmir and the loss of personal freedoms. So it's unlikely that the political leanings of these or any other MEPs will actually affect their assessment.
What is of concern is that the Indian government felt it necessary to sanction the visit at all.
For starters, there is the matter of entry being granted to a foreign group, while withholding the same to democratically-elected Indian politicians. There is no argument that Indian politicians of almost all hues tend to be more trouble than they're worth, more often than not, adding to the problem rather then refining it.
But refusing entry to Opposition leaders into Kashmir, even while laying down the red carpet for a foreign delegation actually undercuts the rationale for allowing the EU visit. Again, for those quibbling about the rightist leanings of MEPs, it's as well to emphasise instead that the Right, Centre and Left in the continent of Europe are all solidly behind democracy. That’s why most of them loathe Pakistan and are comfortable with India.
To retain that comfort level, it's necessary to flaunt democracy and its twin face of dissent. The Opposition has its share of responsible leaders like Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor, both of whom have tended to not criticise the prime minister beyond a point, particularly when it’s a question of India's image abroad. Others have had years of experience on Kashmir, which may yield some sensible advice.
It's worth remembering that the former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra made it a point to include dissenting voices, including members of the political Opposition into the National Security Advisory Board. He used to say that everyone agreeing with him was counter productive, besides being fatiguing. If an earlier BJP government had the wit to take on the Opposition, so could the present one, its huge majority notwithstanding.
Then, there is the most baffling matter of the government's U-turn on what the world thinks. It's true that India has received more than its fair share of negative media and official attention. But after standing strong on the point that the whole was an internal matter, it's unclear why the government has now backtracked. Having let in the EU 'non-delegation', it can now hardly refuse another such 'unofficial' group from the US wherein such persons such as Illhan Omar — she who virtually denied the 9/11 outrage — will demand representation. If terror tourism is to be the rule rather than the exception, it may be wise to get your ducks in line well in advance. That's going to be tricky, since it will certainly require an advancing of India’s democratic credentials, which in turn means taking the Opposition into confidence.
No one can argue that providing as much information as possible is the best possible course. India actually has little to hide. It has been more than prudent in the use of force compared to counter-terrorism operations elsewhere — like the aerial bombing by the US Air Force that not only continue, but have increased significantly in the past few months; or that India has suffered seriously from terrorism against its people, not just in Kashmir but all over the land for over two decades. While the latter fact has now become part of a global narrative against terrorism, other facts on the ground are not readily apparent.
The European Parliament's 'non-delegation' needs to be provided with technical intelligence data that shows that some 40 WhatsApp groups were active on the ground in terms of crowd mobilisation, or recordings of 'conversations' between terrorist leaders across the Line of Control on ingress into Kashmir. So, all that is very well, and the more that is shared, the better.
The group of MEPs may yet provide a good report or two that will allay international concern. But for the longer term, it's as well to go back to your roots (and engage with the Opposition). Said roots have been shaken lately, but our history of noisy dissent and debate is still India's biggest and best marketable asset.
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