A delegation of European Union parliamentarians on Tuesday reached Jammu and Kashmir for an unofficial visit to the region, ANI reported. On Monday, they had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the trip should help the delegation understand the cultural and religious diversity of the region, and give them a clear perspective on the “development and governance priorities”.

A convoy of security vehicles escorted the delegation, who were travelling in bullet-proof jeeps, from the airport to their hotel, PTI reported. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and state police chief Dilbag Singh briefed the delegation on the situation in the state. The delegation also met some members of the public, including newly-elected panchayat leaders and councillors, at a hotel in the city. They also had some tourist-like experiences such as boating in the Dal Lake.

There was a complete shutdown in the city and at least four people were injured in clashes with security officials. People put up blockades in at least five different places in Srinagar. Vendors kept their stalls shut on Tuesday. However, Class 10 examinations in the Valley proceeded on schedule with parents waiting outside examination halls for their children.

Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told the delegation that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been peaceful, and the security forces have been handling law and order effectively, and “most importantly in a humane manner”. Singh claimed that not a single person has been killed in the last 84 days – ever since the special status of Kashmir was scrapped.

When one of the MEPs asked how the administration was combating the spread of fake news, Inspector General of Police SP Pani said one of the reasons it has shut down the internet is to prevent the spread of such news.

“We don’t want fake news and rumours,” he said. “We have been taking up such cases with Twitter and Facebook after presenting evidence and asking them to remove the disturbing contents, fake tweets and posts. But many a time they ask us to route the requests through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) which is a time consuming affair.”

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam gave the MEPs a detailed presentation on the situation in the state, and also answered some questions they posed.

Tuesday’s visit was the first for an international delegation since the Indian administration scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5, and imposed prohibitory orders.

Earlier, Nathan Gill, a member of the European Union Parliament from Wales, said: “It is a good opportunity for us to go into Kashmir as a foreign delegation and to be able to see firsthand for ourselves what is happening on the ground.”

The delegation was earlier supposed to have 27 members but four members instead returned to their home countries, PTI reported, adding that their reasons for doing so were not yet clear.

The delegation largely comprised leaders from right-wing parties, including the Alternative für Deutschland or AfD, known for its anti-immigrant stand, The Telegraph reported. In the group, six members are part of France’s far-right Rassemblement party, five are from Poland’s Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, four belong to United Kingdom’s Brexit Party, two are from Italy’s far-right Lega Party and two from Germany’s AfD.

Among others are leaders of the Czech Republic’s centre-Right Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party [known as KDU-ČSL], Vlaams Belang, a right-wing party in Belgium, and Spain’s far-right party VOX.

In 2017, AfD leader Alice Wiedel said the presence of over a million refugees had made Germany a “safe haven for criminals and terrorists”, according to ThePrint. The politician also alleged that those involved in attacks on the queer community were always “people with Muslim backgrounds, Arabs”. Italy’s far-right Lega Party had in 2018 had compared African immigrants to slaves.

Two visiting leaders from right-wing parties have reportedly lent their support to India’s decision to impose restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.

The European Union Office in India, however, explained that the lawmakers were visiting the country in a personal capacity. “The group of MEPs (Member of European Parliament) visiting India are not part of an official EP delegation,” Director-general for Communication of the European Parliament Jaume Duch Guillot told The Telegraph. “This visit is organised in private capacity and does not represent the House.”

The Opposition on Monday criticised the Centre for allowing the leaders to visit the region when Indian politicians were not allowed to enter the Valley. Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh questioned the Centre’s move, saying it was an “outright insult” to Parliament and democracy.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury pointed out that he was allowed to enter Srinagar only after a Supreme Court order.

Also read: The Daily Fix: European MPs visit to Kashmir looks like a weak attempt by Modi at damage control

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