It has been almost close to three months that normalcy has disappeared from the Kashmir Valley — since the revocation of the special status provided to the erstwhile State of J&K. Although the political leaders of Jammu are released, key leaders of the Valley including three former Chief Ministers — veteran NC leader Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti — continue to be kept captive in their homes. Not only this, many Opposition leaders, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, LJD’s Sharad Yadav, CPI’s D. Raja etc, were not allowed to visit the Valley. However, surprisingly, an “unofficial” visit by 23 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to the Valley was given a green signal.
Such visit raises many questions. Firstly, when the key Opposition leaders of the country are not allowed to visit the Valley how come a foreign delegation is permitted? Secondly, was this “unofficial” tour facilitated by the government of India itself? Thirdly, why most of the MEPs belong to the right? Fourthly, was this visit aimed more towards solving the problems of Kashmir to counter Western Liberals? Lastly, if Kashmir is returning to normalcy then why key leaders of the Valley are still kept captive?
Already the European Parliament has clearly said that the MEPs were on a private tour. This is also maintained by the Government of India. However, it is almost certain that the visit, which is arranged by an NGO, has the stamp of the Union government. That’s why the foreign delegation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi before going to the Valley, where they only took rides on empty shikaras on the Dal Lake and had official military briefings, as they were not allowed to meet common Kashmiri folks.
As of the 23 MEPs, who visited the Valley, almost all belong to the right wing side, with some even belonging to far-right spectrum, many liberals and the Left are criticising their political affiliation, forgetting that they are elected members from their respective countries to the European Parliament. MEPs include members from parties such as UK’s Brexit Party to Marie Le Pen’s National Rally of France to Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) — all known for their anti-immigrant stand. Just because they belong to the right side of the political spectrum, their criticism by the Left cannot be justified. After all, had this delegation consisted of the leftist and liberal MEPs, it was unlikely they would have met the same condemnation from the Indian left and liberals.
Actually, the main issue is not about whether MEPs belong to left, right or center. It is the Modi government’s attitude towards the Valley. The priority of the Centre should have been to warm up the political process of the valley, which has frozen since the revocation of the special status. The Union government says it has organised quite successfully the Block Development Council (BDC) polls. However, it must not be forgotten that not all the people of the Valley were the voters in BDC polls and these were held when the top leadership was kept confined to their homes.
The present discussion is not about the revocation of the special status. It is about for how many days will the lockdown of the Valley continue? Although the administration says the situation is normal, there is a self shutdown by the locals as a means of protest. The communication lockdown is not fully lifted.
Remember, in a democracy, one cannot contain political activities. This creates a vacuum and is not healthy for the country. Already, the terrorists are on a killing spree and targeting the migrant labourers of various States like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab. The labourers who are there to earn a living in the Valley are soft targets to send the message that the Valley is not for outsiders. Another five migrant labourers belonging to Murshidabad district of West Bengal were gunned down by the terrorists two days ago.
Clearly, the both the security apparatus and administration is unable to instil that sense of security it claims to provided. Plus, allowing the delegation of MEPs to visit Kashmir while not permitting the Opposition leaders only sends a negative message that the government is more interested in optics. This firmly points that the foreign delegation consisting mostly of right wing MEPs was related more to international politics than normalising the ground situation of the Valley.
After all, the Modi government has been facing criticism from the American Left and the UK’s Left — Leftist Congress lawmakers of Democratic Party and UK’s Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. On the other hand, the right of both the countries, Republican Party of US and UK’s ruling Conservative Party, has either maintained near silence or some even supported the Modi government. The situation suggests that Modi government is just trying to counter the western Left and also the western media, which has been rather critical by writing editorials and allowing op-eds that never fail to strongly denounce the handling of Kashmir while choosing to ignore the jihadi terror angle in the Valley sponsored by neighbouring Pakistan.
In optics, this can be termed as good diplomacy by the Modi government. As global Left is against us, we are trying to win support of the global Right. But this strategy is not going to silence criticism of the western Left and media, rather will sharpen it more, which may further internationalise the Kashmir issue.
No doubt, the Centre has implemented some steps to normalise the Valley, but clearly these are not adequate. It must set free the top leadership of the Valley immediately and permit the delegation of Opposition members to pay a visit there so as to engage with the locals. If possible, the government should consider a visit by Modi to Kashmir as well. Such steps will only help in easing the situation. Modi government’s motive should be to win the hearts of Kashmiris — not the hearts of Western media. However, in doing so, terrorists shouldn’t be getting a free run and the government must plug the loopholes.
The fact is, if the government really wants to counter the western Left and media’s narrative, it should focus on getting the local Kashmiris on its side. If and when normalcy returns to the Valley, the editorials and op-eds of these critical media will also naturally tone down, thereby softening the critics. And, the Modi government will do well to accept ground realities in the Valley rather than simply indulging in fruitless optics of good diplomacy for a few.