THE Modi government has taken the outrageous step of sending a group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to visit Kashmir on the eve of it being formally reconstituted as two centrally-administered union territories.

The visit is totally out of line because 22 out of the 27 MEPs belong to far-right parties and are known to have right extremist views. They represent parties like the Rassemblement National of France, the Alternative for Deutschland of Germany, the Justice and Law Party of Poland, the Forza Italia and Lega Nord of Italy, Vox of Spain, Vlaams Belang of Belgium and the Brexit Party of UK.

The opposition parties have validly questioned how some European MPs are allowed to visit Kashmir when members of the Indian Parliament and leaders of political parties in India are prevented from going to Srinagar. This has exposed the dubious political manoeuvre of the Modi government. But there is another significant aspect of this visit, which is the nature of the ideological and political character of the group of MEPs who were invited.

All these parties have a common characteristic, which is Islamophobia. Their leaders are known to express racist and even neo-fascist views. To take such a bunch of MEPs to Kashmir reveals much about the Hindutva motivation for the assault on Jammu & Kashmir. It only reinforces the widely held perception among the Kashmiri people that they are being punished for having been part of a Muslim majority state in India.

The visit of the MEPs to Kashmir had all the hallmarks of an officially-sponsored trip. The MEPs were individually chosen and invited by an obscure NGO based in Brussels, headed by a person of Indian origin. In Delhi, the group was met and briefed by the national security advisor, Ajit Doval. In Srinagar, it was the army commander, who met the group and briefed them.

Faced with increasing international criticism of the suppression of democratic rights and violation of human rights from UN bodies and the US congressional hearing, the response of the BJP government has been to organise this handpicked delegation to visit Kashmir. It actually exposes the fact that internationally, only far right Islamophobic forces are willing to support Modi’s anti-democratic assault on Jammu & Kashmir. Many of these parties like the Vox and Lega Nord have extended support to Israel in its suppression of the Palestinians.

The people of Kashmir have met this latest step of the Modi government by observing a total shutdown of normal activities in Srinagar and elsewhere. All shops were closed and there was no movement on the roads during the visit of the MEPs.

With the state of J&K disbanded and two union territories officially instituted, the people of Kashmir are responding with civil disobedience. After nearly three months of the shutdown, the people of the Valley are in a mood of defiance. The elections for chairpersons of the block development councils organised by the administration turned out to be a farcical exercise.

It is in this atmosphere of State repression and popular alienation and defiance that attacks on migrant workers and civilians from outside the state are taking place. The brutal killing of five migrant workers from West Bengal in Kulgam, preceded by killing of six other traders and workers, is a grim warning that Kashmir may be headed for another vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence.

In such a difficult situation, it becomes all the more incumbent upon the democratic and secular forces in India to champion the cause of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, for restoration of their democratic rights; removal of all restrictions, release of all political prisoners and an end to the State-sponsored crackdown.

Cover Photograph of Friday’s restrictions again in Srinagar BASIT ZARGAR