The 27-member delegation of European Parliament members visited the troubled region of Jammu and Kashmir. It’s the first foreign delegation allowed to visit Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, this year.
The MEPs are drawn largely from extreme right-wing parties like the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) famous for its anti-immigrant stand, and France’s Rassemblement National. In all, 22 of the 27 members of European Parliament (MEPs) are Right-wing politicians in their home countries.
In the team are six members from France’s far-right Rassemblement party, five from the Polish far-right Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, four from the UK’s right-wing Brexit Party, two each from Italy’s far-right Lega Party and Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland as well as members of the Czech Republic’s centre-Right KDU-ČSL, Belgium’s right-wing Vlaams Belang and Spain’s far-Right VOX. These parties are known for their anti-immigrant stance and some also for their Islamophobic statements. From Italy, there’s an MEP from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and another from the centre-Left Partito Democratico.
At least two right-wing politicians in the visiting team have already supported the Indian government’s restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir while speaking in the European Parliament.
The announcement of the team’s visit came days after members of the US Congress’ House foreign relations committee had sought clarifications on the situation in Kashmir from the Indian envoy in Washington. The Indian government presented the EU lawmakers’ visit as an attempt to let the outside world see the ground situation in Kashmir, which Delhi has labelled as normal.
The delegation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Monday and attended a lunch thrown by national security advisor Ajit Doval. An official statement issued after the delegation’s meeting with Modi said: “Their visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
But the EU office has clarified that the MEPs were in India in a personal capacity, not as an official EU delegation. The spokesperson and director-general for communication of the European Parliament, Jaume Duch Guillot, wrote: “The group of MEPs (Member of European Parliament) visiting India are not part of an official EP delegation. This visit is organised in private capacity and does not represent the House.”
In a debate in the European Parliament on September 17, two politicians, Ryszard Czarnecki of the Polish Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (the Law and Justice Party) and Fulvio Martusciello of Italy’s Forza Italia, backed the Indian government on the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. “We need to look at terrorist acts that took place in India, Jammu and Kashmir. These terrorists didn’t land from the moon. They were coming from the neighbouring country. We should support India,” Czarnecki said.
Britain’s Right-wing Brexit party is anti-EU and was formed early this year and has 29 MEPs even though its main goal is to exit the EU.
From Belgium, Tom Vandendriessche far-Right Vlaams Belang Party has been attempting to move from the extreme right to a more centrist position and which stands for Flemish nationalism and opposes multiculturalism.
Italy’s Lega Party has moved to the right in recent years and takes a strong stand against illegal immigration, especially from Muslim countries.
British EU MP’s Kashmir visit invite cancelled
However a European Union MP was allegedly uninvited from visiting Kashmir after he expressed the desire to “travel freely, unaccompanied”.
Chris Davies, Member of the European Parliament for North West England, was a part of the group of EU MPs who were invited to visit Kashmir to see the situation on the ground.
Davies was invited by a Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT)to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 28 and then continue his journey to Kashmir ending with a press conference on the October 30 but was uninvited the day after the invitation was extended.
Responding to India Today’s TV email query, Chris Davies said, “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 further said that he was told that flight and accommodation costs will be paid by the ‘International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies’.
Chris Davies said that his invite to Kashmir was eventually cancelled on the October 10 and has not been contacted since.
Opposition criticise the government
For months the Indian government has refused permission to visit Kashmir even to India’s opposition leaders and activists. Several delegations were stopped at Sri Nagar airport and sent back to New Delhi.
Foreign journalists and diplomats also were denied entry into Kashmir. On October 3, US Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s request for a visit to Srinagar was declined. UN special rapporteurs at the human rights council said in their statements that request to visit Kashmir was turned down.
Opposition lawmakers in Delhi protested when news broke that the European parliamentarians would visit Kashmir. Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh called it an insult to the Indian parliament and democracy. Party spokesperson Anand Sharma said the party would raise the issue in Parliament as the government decision violates the collective privileges of Indian MPs.
“This stand of the government is self-defeating and contradicts its consistent position that JK is India’s internal matter. Is this the new version of Indian nationalism?” he asked.