As many as 23 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) arrived in Kashmir on a two-day visit on Tuesday to assess the ground situation after scrapping of J&K’s special status and recorded the feedback from the Army, local officials and 15 delegations, as the Valley observed a complete shutdown and saw a spurt in street protests.
“We are looking for the facts. It is a good occasion to get some views. I do not have enough facts to reach a conclusion. We are conscious of the context. We are also conscious that we were being kept away from some people,” Spanish MEP Herman Tertsch said.
Earlier in the day, United Kingdom MEP Chris Davies, whose invite was rescinded after he made a request to meet people without any escort, said, “I am not prepared to be part of a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It’s very clear democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir and the world needs to start taking notice.”
Around four MEPs have reportedly backed out from travelling to Kashmir.
On arrival, the European Union (EU) delegates drove through Srinagar city from the airport to their hotel located near the Dal lake, under a heavy security blanket. The cavalcade also drove past four detention centres, where three former Chief Ministers and several mainstream politicians were being held since August 5.
The EU delegates held across-the-table interactions with 15 delegations, including of traders, grassroots leaders, students, a three-member women’s group and civil society members at the Lalit Grand Palace hotel, just next to Hari Niwas where National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah is being detained. The members also took boat rides on the Dal lake in the evening.
Global Youth Foundation head Touseef Raina, who met the MEPs, said he highlighted that youth of J&K witnessed “enough bloodshed and wanted an end to it.”
“We told the MEPs that youth draw inspiration from the EU-like system. We underlined there was no leadership in J&K. The unfortunate decision to bifurcate J&K is a collective failure of the regional mainstream parties and separatists. If they had worked in a selfless manner, Kashmir would have been a peaceful place,” said Mr. Raina.
BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur, who led a delegation of panchs and sarpanchs, said, “Kashmir is normal. There are some forces that want to disturb peace here. Otherwise, people want to open shops and students want to go to educational institutes. Article 370 was like a wall, stopping the State’s development.” A women’s delegation highlighted the issue of unemployment.
Earlier, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon hosted a lunch to the visiting delegates at the Badamibagh Cantonment. Sources said the Army apprised the team of situation on the Line of Control (LoC), infiltration bids from across the border and the internal situation.
In the evening, the EU team also met senior officials of the J&K government for their feedback on the situation.
Meanwhile, no prominent traders' body, civil society group or regional political parties interacted with the EU delegation.
Valley's apex traders body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), president Sheikh Ashiq said his association was not invited. "The local delegations were hand picked," said Mr. Ashiq.
Muhammad Akbar Lone, a National Conference Member Parliament, said he returned to Srinagar from Delhi with the hope to meet the EU delegation. "Unfortunately, there is no indication if we will be allowed to meet. There is no offer hold a meeting with them. They have been selectively brought here as a part of conspiracy. They have no credibility. If they had credibility, they would have met all, especially detained chief ministers," said Mr. Lone.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Firdous Tak said, "The visit is mere an eyewash. It is an outcome of the internal and external pressure on the Centre. It is being stage managed to project all was well in Kashmir," said Mr. Tak.
In a sudden spurt in violence, over 50 incidents of stone pelting were recorded in the Valley, according to the police data.
Suspected militants also opened fire on a CRPF bunker in Pulwama's Drabgam area. It created panic among the students appearing for Class 10 examination in the area.
There was a complete shutdown in Kashmir on Tuesday. Even the movement of the private traffic saw a dip. Shopkeepers, who otherwise would open for two hours in the morning, remained closed for the whole day.
Joint Secretary, Examination, Syed Rouf said 99 percent students appeared in the Class 10 examinations. "Only 568 students remained absent out of 65000 enrolled students," he said.