THE CENTRAL government’s decision to allow visit of 27 members of the European Parliament visiting India to visit the Kashmir Valley has raised eyebrows and is a cause of concern particularly when Indian members of parliament have so far not been allowed to tour the area since August 5 when the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir was withdrawn.
The Valley has remained locked down for nearly three months now despite government withdrawing some of the restrictions imposed after Article 35 was abrogated and Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded to two Union Territories.
It took over two months for the government to restore landlines services which was followed by restricted restoration of mobile services. However the local residents still don’t have access to the internet and social messaging sites such as WhatsApp.
There is also a sort of Janata curfew where local people are themselves not coming out of their areas. Even shops open just for a couple of hours every day and people are not sending children to educational institutions even though these have been declared open by the government.
All opposition political parties have been demanding access to the Valley to interact with the people and look into the normalcy claims by the central government.
A delegation of MPs from these parties was forced to return from the Srinagar airport because they were not allowed to step out of the airport. Several other MPs, who had tried to enter on their own, were also disallowed.
All top leaders of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party like former chief minister’s Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah continue to remain under house arrest.
It is in this context it was very surprising that the delegation of MPs from Europe were allowed to visit the Valley.
It shows lack of confidence and trust among our own Members of Parliament who are representatives of the people and should have been given the first right to visit the Valley.
If the current impasse has to be broken it shall have to be done through political process and by taking involving the local people. No region or people can be subjugated just by force. There is no way but to involve the common people in restoring normalcy in the area.
The government’s attempt to force down block level elections, which was boycotted by major political parties such as National Conference, PDP and the Congress, was not adequate or advisable. The voting was very low in the Valley. It has also jeopardised locals who had come out to vote.
Government has not taken adequate steps to assuage the feelings of the Kashmiris and to give them confidence. To restore normalcy the government has no choice but to involve local representatives. It must also take into confidence elected representatives of all the parties.
As it often happens in such situations, it is the common people who would bear the brunt. Those who did not come out to vote would be looked with suspicion by the security forces and those who voted can be the target of the wrath of the terrorists.
Government allowed these MPs even while it had denied permission to an American senator who had applied for permission to visit just last week.
Observers have pointed out a strange coincidence that at least 22 of the 27 MPs belong to right-wing or far-right parties in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
They had been broadly in favour of anti immigration laws and had been supporting Brexit. They are not on an official visit to India but are here on the invitation of a non governmental organisation.
It is this composition of the delegation that prompted CPM’s Sitaram Yechury to say that "this unofficial group is overwhelmingly from ultra-right wing pro-fascist parties having relations with the BJP”. He said this composition explained why the Modi Government had not allowed opposition MPs to visit the Valley.
While it was understandable that restrictions had to be put initially to prevent Pakistan sponsored anti national elements to indulge in violence but three months is too long a period to restore normalcy in the Valley.
Government has not taken adequate steps to assuage the feelings of the local people and to give them confidence.
To restore normalcy the government has no choice but to involve local representatives. It must also take into confidence elected representatives of all the parties.
*(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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