Last week, the government once again brought Delhi-based foreign diplomats on a visit to Kashmir with the opposition slamming it as a “guided tour” facilitated by New Delhi to exhibit normalcy in the state-turned union territory. The two-day trip comprised more than a dozen envoys, including from the United States. The delegation met politicians, civil society groups, journalists and business heads, among others. Earlier the government had organised a similar tour for far-right members of the European Parliament. Both such visits have run into their share of controversies. The move has come under criticism for trying to portray normalcy in Kashmir where the internet remains suspended for more than five months and Kashmir’s top political leadership, including three former chief ministers, still remain in detention.
However, diplomats from Australia and several Gulf nations refused the visit due to what government said “scheduling” reasons. But diplomats from European Union countries refused the government invite as they wanted access to common people and visit areas which have not been included in the trip.
In New Delhi, the BJP’s main opposition, the Congress party criticized the government for taking the foreign envoys to Kashmir but refusing to allow its own citizens into the region. Congress leader Manish Tewari said that the government’s attempt to demonstrate that everything was normal in Kashmir was “far from reality”.
The visit has also been opposed by the local Kashmiri parties like National Conference and the PDP, whose senior leaders are under detention. Reacting scathingly to the visit, the NC said the diplomats had been “brought to Kashmir on a guided tour, where access has been severely limited to those handpicked individuals who will toe the government line”. The PDP said the visit of the envoys was the government’s way of normalising the situation and dared the government to let them meet the detained leaders.
The BJP has remained unfazed by such criticisms and defended the visit by showing the world that Kashmir was normal following the revocation of Article 370 on August 5. The BJP has highlighted the absence of protests in Kashmir as a sign of normalcy in the UT.
The fact, however, remains that while the situation in Kashmir has remained largely calm, government hasn’t been commensurate with relaxation of restrictions. Internet continues to be shut which is causing immense hardships to people and has virtually wrecked the parts of economy. Similarly, the government has refused to restore prepaid phones. So, the situation can only be called normal if the government also keeps its side of the bargain by easing curbs in response to normalcy on the ground.