India’s opposition parties and analysts on Thursday lambasted a two-day tour to occupied Kashmir for foreign envoys arranged by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with a resident of the Himalayan valley saying there were “no hopes”.
Being criticised as a “repeat” of last October’s tour arranged for the European Parliament’s right-leaning members, the new visit comprises 15 Delhi-based diplomats who reached occupied Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, and would be, according to Indian news agency ANI, “briefed by the Indian Army on the security situation”. The diplomats hail from “the United States, Maldives, Norway, Argentina, Niger, Togo, Vietnam, Bangladesh, South Korea, Peru, [and] Morocco”, the publication wrote.
The Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) slammed the move, saying if the conditions in the Muslim-majority region were normal, “why are scores of people … under detention for almost 160 days and why have the people been denied access to the Internet for over 5 months?”
As per Times of India, the disappointed JKNC termed the tour as “short-lived propaganda victories” that hid “true normalcy [which] will only be achieved when all detainees are released, communications and Internet restored and genuine political activity resumed”.
Calling out the hypocrisy wherein Indians were told that “peaceful dissent is the cornerstone of democracy”, the party asked: “Are the people of Jammu and Kashmir expected to live without the fundamental rights accorded to other Indian citizens?”
Further, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (JKPDP) also criticised the decision, labelling it a “guided tour” for “handpicked individuals who toe the government line”.
As per The Hindu, it further added: “The government jails those who aided its democracy and strings up puppets who are ready to bargain at the cheapest price. The government should understand that those who really love Kashmiri soil are not for sale.”
Jairam Ramesh, a leader of one of the country’s biggest parties, Indian National Congress (INC), condemned the foreign diplomats’ tour, asking why New Delhi was not allowing Indian politicians into occupied Kashmir.
“We demand that the government allows unfettered access to J&K to all politicians and not resort to guided tours for envoys,” he said, according to NDTV.
Manish Tewari, another INC leader, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government aimed “to demonstrate that everything is normal in Kashmir, which is far from reality”. Tewari asked why the Internet was suspended for more than five months, saying it was “paradoxical” to “right-wing EU members to visit Kashmir” but not Indian politicians.
“This visit is a farcical exercise aimed at distorting reality. The situation needs a political outreach and for the people of Kashmir need to be taken on board,” he told Al Jazeera.
The publication also quoted a 33-year-old engineer from occupied Kashmir, who said such diplomats “eat good food, stay in luxury hotels and enjoy the joy rides in the lakes”.
He said: “They hardly question India on its oppression in Kashmir. So, we have no hopes that they will speak for us. Had India been a real democracy, it would have given access to international human rights groups and foreign journalists.”
Kashmir-based analyst Sidiq Wahid, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation’s Sushobha Barve, and former senior Kashmiri bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah voiced similar concerns, saying India was attempting to legitimise its August 5, 2019, move when it revoked occupied Kashmir’s special status.
“The government in Delhi is trying to seek legitimacy for itself. … There is so little credibility for such delegations,” Wahid said, while Barve added that India wished “to tell the world that everything is all right in Kashmir”.
Habibullah, on the other hand, asked: “What is the necessity for a guided tour unless the objective is to spread propaganda?”
Separately, BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal blamed India’s opposition parties for “spreading misgivings in international media on how human rights are being violated” in Kashmir and said if such was the case, “why aren’t people in Kashmir protesting?”
He defended the Internet blackout as “a preventive measure” to stop attempts at disturbing peace in occupied Kashmir.—Agencies