EU Lawmakers In Kashmir Today As Opposition Questions Government

The group is expected to visit the Army headquarters, where they will be briefed and they will have have lunch.

The 27-member EU team met PM Modi in Delhi on Monday.

New Delhi/Srinagar:

A group of European Union MPs, which met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Monday, arrived in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday amid questions raised by the opposition on the visit at a time politicians at home have been barred from the state amid heavy restrictions for over two months.

In the middle of the backlash, four of the 27 lawmakers have dropped out of the Kashmir visit.

The MPs, drawn mainly from far right parties, are the first international visitors to Jammu and Kashmir since the government on August 5 announced the end of special status to the state under Article 370 and split it into two union territories. Only three of the 27 MPs belong to the Left or liberal parties. All of them are visiting India in their private capacity.

The group is expected to visit the Army headquarters, where they will be briefed and they are likely to have lunch.

The MPs will be taken to two hotels, where they are expected to meet traders, houseboat owners and state government officials. But Sheikh Ashiq, President, Kashmir Chamber Of Commerce and Industry said he hadn't received any invite so far.

"It is a good opportunity for us to go into Kashmir as a foreign delegation and be able to see firsthand for ourselves what's happening on the ground," European Parliament member Nathan Gill told news agency ANI from the bus that took the MPs to the airport for their flight to Srinagar.

Thierry Mariani, a Euro MP for France's far-right National Rally, was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse (AFP), "we are going to see the situation in Kashmir, at least what they want to show us".

After their meeting with PM Modi yesterday, a statement from his office said, "Prime Minister, while welcoming the delegation to India, expressed the hope that they have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including to Jammu and Kashmir. Their visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; apart from giving them a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region."

Without naming Pakistan, PM Modi told the EU lawmakers that urgent action was required against all those who support or sponsor terror activities and use terrorism as a state policy.

The visit comes at a time the entire opposition mainstream in Kashmir, including three former chief ministers, remains in custody. Hundreds of politicians were detained in measures that included a complete communication lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir and massive curbs on movement after the Article 370 decision. Some of the restrictions have been softened since then.

Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi have raised many questions about the visit. The Congress leader, who was turned away from the Srinagar airport in August, tweeted: "MPs from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu and Kashmir while Indian MPs are banned and denied entry. There is something very wrong with that."

Another Congress MP, Shashi Tharoor, had termed the centre's decision as "an insult to democracy", party colleague Jairam Ramesh wondered what may have spurred the "chest-beating champion of nationalism" to take such a step.

Theresa Griffin, a Euro MP for North West of England, today tweeted that the group of far-right lawmakers visiting Kashmir "do not speak for the European Parliament", adding that the "shutdown in Kashmir must be ended and constitutional rule of law restored".

AFP reported yesterday that the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved in this visit. Several European embassies in Delhi were unaware of the visit until Monday, the agency reported. It also quoted an unnamed EU official in India as saying the visit was not official and the lawmakers had come at the invitation of an NGO.

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