The ‘unofficial’ trip by EU MPs, most of whom are Right-wingers, has raised questions about its credibility
There is no doubt that the prolonged lockdown of the Kashmir Valley, nearly 84 days after the abrogation of Article 370, has somewhat diluted the diplomatic gains made in the aftermath of that announcement. And while we have emphasised that move as within our constitutional and sovereign space, the clampdown and curfew have left many nations wondering if we are on the wrong side of that very space on basic human rights. The Government may be defending its drill on grounds of continued threats from Pakistan-sponsored militancy — the latest attacks on apple truckers ferrying stocks that are being bought by procurement agencies to save farmers being just an example. But its continued detention of elected representatives of the people, whom it says had done nothing to control militancy and played the Indo-Pakistan dynamic for their continued relevance, has stifled the only voice of the locals. In fact, allowing people expression will only sharpen focus on extremism of the exported kind. The boycott of block-level elections by mainstream parties in Kashmir and even civil disobedience by locals, who have not resumed normal life even where curbs have been relaxed, have only worsened perceptions. Last week, a US Congressional panel questioned State Department officials on Kashmir with some lawmakers writing a letter to Indian Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, claiming that the picture portrayed by India is different from the one being narrated to them by their constituents. The European Parliament expressed concern as well. So the government’s desperation to redesign propaganda over perception has meant that it has let in an “unofficial” EU delegation of MPs for an ear-to-the-ground survey of Kashmir, where members will interact with both the administration and locals.
Since this is the first visit by a foreign delegation ever since Kashmir’s changed status, naturally there are concerns whether in its bid to keep international opinion on its side, the Government is again repeating its oversight of who should be allowed in and who shouldn’t. Rather, is this also a “PR-friendly” mission? Justifiably, a whole spectrum of Opposition leaders, from the Congress to the Left and even Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, rose in solidarity, demanding that the political process be respected first. These leaders have said that Opposition MPs be allowed to visit the Valley and the detained leaders set free. This is indeed unavoidable as without civil and political engagement, howsoever chaotic, obstructive or negative, the administration cannot go forward with meaningful governance. Otherwise, the reorganisation of Kashmir will only be seen as shadow-boxing of political egoism. Even home-grown rights groups and observers have not been allowed into Kashmir for a fair assessment. If at all the government braved having an international delegation move around, it ought to have been an independent, credible and an official body or representative group. Besides, this delegation comprises known Right and far-Right MPs, who have already supported the Government’s decision. Their past assessments have also been hardline and anti-immigrant with one of them even supporting the Russian annexation of Crimea. Also, the delegation met the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval separately to understand their views, almost stamping itself with officialese. The lone member seeking free movement has been dropped. Clearly then, this looks like a stage-managed, damage control fix than a critical assessment. Had it been a legitimate effort, then the social media angst by young Kashmiris would not be the only measure of the ground situation. No wonder even BJP’s Subramanian Swamy called this visit a “perversion of our national policy.” In fact, this pick-and-choose approach amounts to subversion of democracy. If indeed the Government wants to publicise normalcy, then it should first ensure a degree of it at the ground level, then allow in all shades of opinion to visit the new Union Territory. If it is so confident that the world at large and citizens at home have made peace with the legality of the change there, then it should take a step forward, no matter what the risks, and let the muzzled voices out. It should have the absorptive strength of criticism, too, if it wants to mainstream the political economy of Kashmir. Or else separatism won’t need to be fanned by Pakistan.
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 | Pioneer
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