It is almost 90 days since the abrogation of the special rights of Jammu & Kashmir. For the last three months, thousands of people including three former chief ministers have been either in house arrest or under army custody, and there is no certainty about when they will be released. Foreign media report that human rights violations are going on unimpeded.
US Democratic leaders Bernie Sanders, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and many political leaders of Europe and human rights organizatons are in an attempt to make the Kashmir situation an international topic of discussion. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to raise the Kashmir situation during her ongoing visit to India. But the government take is that Kashmir has restored normal situaton. It was to strengthen such an argument that a visit by a select delegation of 27 members of European Union (EU) parliament was organised. This backdoor exercise by the Centre aimed at regaining its international image has, however culminated in a ludicrous loss of face and a diplomatic disaster.
The sponsors of the MEPs' visit was a rather obscure NGO called Women's Economic and Social Think-tank (Westt) based at Brussels. And the email for the same was sent by its founder and Indian-origin British citizen Madi Sharma which said that prime minister Modi would like to see EU representatives and an opportunity to visit Jammu & Kashmir could be arranged. It was also assured in the email tha all expenses for the trip would be borne by Delhi-based International Institute for Non-aligned Studies (IINS), another not-so-well-known NGO. The motivation and bona fides of the whole project can easily be inferred from the very fact that those selected for the invitation were radical right-wingers, anti-immigration groups and staunch proponents of Islamophobia from Germany, Poland, Britain, Italy and France. Even as it was explained that the delegation was a purely unofficial group and the government did not have any role in it, all the assurances given by Madi Sharma have beenduly fulfilled. In Delhi, the delegation met the Prime Minister, Vice President, National Security Adviser and others as scheduled. A dinner was held for the MEP's by Minister of Foreign Affairs. And in Kashmir, discussions were held with the Governor, top military officers and others inlcuding the state Chief Secretary.
It would take simple common sense to understand that Madi Sharma's role was a backdoor ploy on behalf of the central government for its image building. That is how the self-styled international trade broker secured that much of access and leverage with the prime minister's office and other echelons of power. How was access to Kashmir - that was denied to political organisations and members of parliament - facilitated for MEP's? What was the source of funds for the package? And how were the fixtures with the top rungs of government made possible with such ease? The simple answers to such questions would suffice to bring down the edifice of the specious official argument that the government had nothing to do with it. For the same reason, the government has an obligation to respond to the Opposition demand to explain the constitutional validity and democratic propriety of diplomatic roles being played by private agencies bypassing the ministry of foreign affairs. Also to be revealed are the particulars about the relations between the government and the agencies that performed all these functions.
The casualty in this entire diplomatic farce is in fact the country's image. And it has also resulted in the denial of democratic right in the country being made a topic of discussion in the outside world. If European Union MP's can be permited to visit Kashmir, the question why it is denied to Indian political parties and human rights bodies cannot be dodged by the government any longer. This question has already been raised by two of the four MEPs, Chris Davies and Nicolas Fest, who returned without proceeding to Kashmir after reaching Delhi. A likely consequence of the laughable diplomatic gimmic that Kashmir will run the risk of being more agitated. These days Kashmir has been witness to the severest protests of recent times. Unofficial agencies reveal that six Kashmiris got killed in the pellet firing and shooting against the protests. Five labourers also were killed in a terrorist attack suspected to have been made by Hizbul Mujahideen. Diplomatic doublespeak has never been helpful for image make-over of any country. It will only complicate internal equations further. And that is the lesson Kashmir post-5 August imparts to us.