15 foreign envoys, barring EU representatives, to visit J&K
The government is taking 15 foreign envoys for a two-day trip to Jammu and Kashmir to shed light on the ground realities, five months after Article 370 was rescinded and the state bifurcated into two Union Territories. Kenneth Juster, US Ambassador to India, will be part of this team, but representatives of the European Union (EU) won't be. Reportedly, they demanded more access.
Context: Article 370's abrogation monumentally changed J&K
Last August, BJP, fulfilling one of its pre-poll promises, removed the controversial article, which granted special status to J&K. Article 370 allowed the state's residents to live under a separate set of laws pertaining to citizenship and property ownership. However, in Kashmir, this move was largely shunned. Anticipating trouble, Centre deployed heavy forces, suspended modes of communication, and also detained politicians.
Facing heat over rights violations, government planned envoys' trip
The communication blockade in the Valley raised human rights concerns, not only in India but overseas as well. BJP parroted the narrative that the situation is fine, but it didn't find any takers. And this latest trip of envoys is aimed at quelling doubts about the situation. About the exclusion of the EU, a government source claimed so many people couldn't be accommodated.
EU delegates wanted more access, hence, skipped the trip
However, an NDTV report contradicted the government's version. Sources told the daily, EU delegates didn't want a "guided tour" and wished to meet people of their own choice, including the detained former CMs - Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, and Mehbooba Mufti.
Local body leaders will meet the team
As per the government's plans, the team will meet panchayat members, representatives of local bodies and NGOs. "I was called by an Army officer and told to be ready to meet a delegation in Srinagar. I was asked to travel from Baramulla to Srinagar at 8 am but I wasn't given details of whom I'll be meeting," a member of the local body said.
In October, another team's Kashmir visit sparked controversy
Before this trip, a team of 23 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) visited J&K in October. Largely belonging to far-right parties, they seemed impressed with India. However, the visit was shrouded in controversy because it wasn't organized by the Ministry of External Affairs, but by a woman named Madi Sharma. Apparently, Madi exploited her political connections to portray a happy image of the Valley.
Government is easy on foreign politicians, harsh on Opposition
The Centre definitely has no issues allowing envoys from different nations to visit Kashmir, but it isn't giving the same treatment to Opposition leaders. Saying they might jeopardize the "prevailing peaceful" situation, the government stopped Congress' Rahul Gandhi-led delegation from visiting Kashmir. They were not even allowed to step out of Srinagar Airport. Months have passed and Kashmir is still off-limits for the Opposition.
Will envoys buy government's 'all is well' story?
By the end of this trip, foreign envoys will have a better idea about how things are functioning in Kashmir. While their conclusions are highly-anticipated, data shows the situation is grim there. According to a reply to a Right to Information application, stone-pelting incidents saw a surge in 2019, as compared to 2018 and 2017. In fact, the maximum incidents, 658, happened in August.