In its attempt to hide Kashmir from international scrutiny, the Union government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party is battering India’s democratic credentials.
On Monday, British Labour MP Debbie Abrahams was denied entry into India at Delhi airport. Abrahams said that she had an e-visa to visit India and had no intention of going to Kashmir. She said she was here to see relatives. Immigration officials informed her that her visa was not valid and put her on flight to Dubai.
Abrahams is a vocal critic of India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last August and heads the All Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir in Britain. The British High Commission has said they are in touch with Indian officials to figure out why she was deported.
Over the last few months, the Centre has tried its best to assure international observers that Kashmir is a picture of normalcy. It has arranged guided tours for diplomats based in Delhi. They seem to have been cherry picked to ensure that the Indian government’s message will carried to international forums. However, there have been reports of some delegates slipping away from the official schedule to do their own assessment with their ground contacts.
To the BJP government, any criticism is unwelcome. In December, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar canceled a meeting with United States Congress members after finding out that the delegation included a member of Indian origin who has been critical of the Kashmir situation.
The idea seems to be simple: bring in those who echo the Centre’s position on Kashmir and deny access to those who can raise questions.
But the government’s international public relations exercise on Kashmir is falling flat. The reason for this is clear. If the situation in Kashmir is indeed normal, there would be no need for the government to continue the restrictions on communications and movement. No country that claims to be normal would lock away leaders, including former chief ministers, by using draconian laws like the Public Safety Act.
Seven months since the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and of dividing the state into two Union Territories, there is no sign of the region getting a democratically-elected government. The region remains completely controlled by the Centre, which now wants to hold local body elections while prominent political leaders are in detention. This can in no way be described as a normal situation in a country that values its constitutional traditions.
The BJP is missing the simple fact that India’s reputation with regard to Kashmir can be set right by doing only one thing: lifting the clampdown the region has been under. No amount of guided tours and public relations exercises can undo the damage that these restrictions have dealt to the country’s democratic image.