The Members of European Parliament (MEPs) coming to India for a visit to Srinagar were promised a “prestigious VIP meeting” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the NGO that organised the visit claimed that he wanted to meet them as “influential decision-makers from the European Union”, invitations accessed by The Hindu show.
The invitations that went out to more than 30 MEPs from Brussels-based British PIO Madi Sharma, who accompanied the MEPs delegation, said that she ran a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called WESTT (Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank), although her link to the government and to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are unclear. The Hindu attempted to email Ms. Sharma, whose Twitter account describes her as an “international business broker”, but the message bounced back and said the page was invalid.
“I am organising a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi and it is my privilege to offer this invitation to you,” Ms. Sharma said. “As you will be aware Prime Minister Modi had a landslide victory in the recent elections in India and is planning to continue on his path of growth and development for India the country and its people. In that respect, he would like to meet influential decision makers from the European Union.” It also explained that the 3-day visit would include meetings with Mr. Modi and senior officials, a visit to Kashmir, and a press conference on Wednesday.
Ms. Sharma claimed that all expenses for the visit (flight and accommodations) would be sponsored by the Delhi-based International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). The Hindu made several calls to its Delhi office in Safdarjung Enclave, and tried to reach official in-charge Sujay Dhawan, but was unable to elicit a response.
On Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson clarified that the “MEA is not involved and not coordinating the visit.” The fact that these MEPs then met Mr. Modi, Vice- President Venkaiah Naidu and were hosted for meals by the National Security Adviser’s office and the MEA, however, has raised questions about the manner in which the delegation, the first foreign group to visit the Kashmir Valley since August 5, was organised.
2 ‘disinvited’ from visit
Amid the developments, two MEPs from the UK-based Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) claimed that they were “disinvited” from the India visit after they asked for unfettered access to local Kashmiris and journalists during the visit. According to their correspondence with Ms. Sharma, MEPs Chris Davies and Irina Von Weise had confirmed a meeting with her in Brussels at the European Parliament on October 10 to discuss the arrangements for the visit. However, hours before the meeting, Ms. Sharma wrote to cancel it and said that she could not “take any more MEPs at this stage.”
Protesting the treatment of its MEPs, the LDP issued a statement on Tuesday in London. Mr. Davies told The Hindu that he was “surprised” when he first received the invitation as he had addressed the European Parliament on his “concerns over Kashmir”. “I replied that I was happy to accept on the condition that during my time in Kashmir I would be free to go wherever I wish and talk to whoever I wish, unaccompanied by military, police or security forces but accompanied by journalists.”
Ms. Sharma replied that it was their responsibility to ensure protection to the MEPs, but “a little security” would not hinder their work.
It is unclear on whose behalf Ms. Sharma was able to guarantee security, nor is it clear why the government and the MEA, which regularly organise visits of foreign parliamentarians to India, did not undertake the organisation itself.
The visit has also come in for criticism from the Opposition parties in India who have questioned the “far right” antecedents of the MEPs. Most of them belonged to anti-immigrant, right-wing parties like Germany’s AFD, UK’s Brexit Party, Italy’s Forta Italia, France’s National Rally party and Poland’s Law and Justice Party.
Of the 27 MEPs that arrived in Delhi on Monday, only 23 actually were part of the meetings in Srinagar, giving rise to speculation that the rest had dropped out after the negative publicity the group had attracted. The MEA declined to comment, and WESTT and IINS NGOs were unreachable for a clarification on the 4 MEPs unaccounted for.