NEW DELHI: Indian opposition parties have decried the proposed visit of mostly far rightwing European MPs to the besieged city of Srinagar on Tuesday, accusing the Modi government of insulting democracy.

Indian MPs have been denied permission to visit the disputed state and the few that were allowed went there through the intervention of the Supreme Court, which denied them any political purpose, including statements, for the favour.

“If scrapping Article 370 integrated J&K into India, why is Shri Rahul Gandhi barred from visiting Kashmir? Instead, a group of far-right and fascist-leaning EU MPs is allowed by (Government of India). Your ticket to Kashmir is possible only if you’re a fascist with a visceral hatred for Muslims,” a tweet posted from Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle read.

Ms Mufti has been under arrest together with other senior Kashmiri leaders since the August 5 parliamentary decision to break up Jammu and Kashmir into two federally-ruled Union Territories. The move was accompanied by a total shutdown of the Muslim majority state enforced by a military siege.

Congress party MP Shahshi Tharoor echoed Ms Mufti’s outrage. “My request, made during the Lok Sabha debate on Article 370, for an All-Party delegation of MPs to visit to see the situation for themselves, has still not been accepted. But members of the European Parliament can travel as our government’s guests? What an #InsultToIndianDemocracy!” he tweeted.

Early October, a US Senator from the Democratic Party who wanted to visit Kashmir to see the situation ‘first-hand’ was denied permission. Chris Van Hollen became the first US Congressman to have been barred from visiting the besieged state. Mr Hollen was part of a congressional delegation that discussed India-US bilateral relations, trade ties and defence purchases with authorities in India.

“A delegation of 27 European Union MPs — 22 of whom belong to far-right parties — will visit Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday to assess the ground situation there after the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 two months ago. They are expected to talk to locals in Jammu and Kashmir, and ask them about their experiences since August 5,” NDTV reported.

Barring independent-minded visitors from visiting the troubled state has not been the monopoly of the Modi government. Human rights groups and scholars were denied visas even by Congress governments. In September 2011, independent Armenian-American radio journalist David Barsamian was stopped from visiting Kashmir after he had arrived in India.

‘I have travelled to Iran, Pakistan... I have been to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt but I never faced any problems there. So, how can I accept this decision?’Mr Barsamian still wonders.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh had earlier wondered why the “chest-beating champion of nationalism” was allowing foreign leaders to visit Jammu and Kashmir — an opportunity denied to Indian politicians. “When Indian political leaders have been prevented from meeting the people of Jammu and Kashmir, what possessed the great chest-beating champion of nationalism to allow European politicians to visit J&K. This is an outright insult to India’s own Parliament and our democracy,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had posed for a photograph with the delegation this morning, expressing the hope that the visit would enlighten them to issues related to Jammu and Kashmir. However, many like former diplomat KC Singh were not convinced about the intent behind the visit, and claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “poorly advised” to allow politicians drawn from far-right parties of the European Union to visit the region.

“Right-wing MEPs headed to J&K are welcomed with open arms. PM, poorly advised, poses with them. It is repeat of BJP’s misstep in letting Kanda lead their Save-BJP-Operation in Haryana. Means ARE imp; not merely the ENDS.”

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2019