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Government allows 27 European lawmakers to visit Kashmir

The members of European parliament (MEP) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security adviser Ajit Doval on Monday. The visiting group consists of MEPs from Italy, UK, France, Germany and Poland, and they are on a visit “in their personal capacities”, said sources.

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NEW DELHI: A group of 27 European parliamentarians will be the first foreign lawmakers to travel to Jammu and Kashmir to see the ground situation after the Centre’s August 5 decision to rescind the state’s special status and split it into two Union Territories. The move is seen as a significant shift by the Modi government, indicating a desire to address international opinion over the communication lockdown and detention of political leaders that followed the decision to nullify Article 370. The members of European parliament (MEP) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security adviser Ajit Doval on Monday. The visiting group consists of MEPs from Italy, UK, France, Germany and Poland, and they are on a visit “in their personal capacities”, said sources. Most of them belong to right-wing parties, which are more sympathetic to India’s stand on Kashmir, a point that attracted some criticism of the government’s move on social media.During his meeting with the MPs, the PM called for urgent action against sponsors and supporters of terrorism without naming Pakistan. He said the use of terrorism as state policy must be opposed and added the visit will allow the parliamentarians to get “a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”. Modi also said the visit will provide a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region, according to an official readout.The visit has been organised by the NSA’s office. Last week, a group of US lawmakers had demanded that they be allowed to visit Kashmir. US senator Chris van Hollen, who was in India recently, complained that he had not been allowed to go.The MEPs also met Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu while Doval spent almost an hour providing a detailed briefing on the situation. External affairs minister S Jaishankar met them at dinner on Monday evening. The EU parliamentarians will travel to Srinagar on Tuesday morning, where they are expected to meet civil society and the administration.The development saw opposition parties Congress and CPI(M) criticising the government for facilitating the visit by EU parliamentarians while keeping the state off-limits for Indian politicians. Doval told the MEPs there were no restrictions on movement, and all landline and postpaid mobiles are functional in J&K. Hospitals were functioning too and essential supplies were available, despite the ever-present terror threat. The Europeans met a large number of Kashmiris at the lunch hosted by Doval and these included some newly elected panchayat leaders, political activists and business people.Sources said European countries were becoming India-Pakistan battleground with the Pakistani diaspora in many of these countries sponsoring action, both political and legal, against India. The Indian effort is to reduce the space for such political activism by reaching out to political forces that are willing to understand why India altered the status of J&K. India had to embark on a massive diplomatic initiative in Europe last month, as Pakistan and its supporters used the UNHRC to target India.The MEPs’ visit comes a few days before the reorganisation of J&K comes into formal effect. The government, in its conversation with the European lawmakers, assured them that the detention of political leaders would be reconsidered along with a roadmap for a delimitation exercise and ultimately elections in the territories. Until then, the Centre needed to be in control in J&K to help transition the government machinery in the state to become a full-fledged state.

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