India Finally Lets Lawmakers Into Kashmir: Far-Right Europeans

India’s own members of Parliament have been kept out of the locked-down region for months, as have journalists and an American senator.

Police officers stood guard outside a park in Srinigar, Kashmir, this month.
Police officers stood guard outside a park in Srinigar, Kashmir, this month.Credit...Atul Loke for The New York Times
Maria Abi-Habib

NEW DELHI — After months of denying journalists, Indian lawmakers and an American senator access to the locked-down Kashmir region, the Indian government on Tuesday allowed a visit by mostly far-right members of the European Parliament, representing anti-immigration parties with histories of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

India stripped the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy on Aug. 5, and it has stopped international journalists from traveling there, locked up local politicians and severed phone lines and the internet. The government partially restored cellphone service this month, but all other communication remains cut.

The European delegation allowed to visit on Tuesday consists mostly of members of far-right populist parties, including the Alternative for Germany, Poland’s governing Law and Justice party and the French party National Rally. Indian news reports said 22 of the 27 lawmakers in the group were from far-right parties. Embassies from some of the countries that the delegation represents confirmed their attendance when contacted by The New York Times.

A United States senator, Chris Van Hollen, was prevented from traveling to Kashmir earlier this month, and the Indian government has consistently blocked the country’s own lawmakers from visiting the area to assess the situation.

The Twitter account of Mehbooba Mufti, one of the Kashmiri politicians who have been detained, was scathing about the European delegation’s visit. Members of Ms. Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party have been prevented from meeting with her during her detention.

“In its desperation to convince international community that normalcy’s restored in Kashmir,” the government of India is “engaging with what seem like pro fascist, right leaning and anti immigrant EU MPs. Royal mess,” the post read. (Ms. Mufti’s Twitter account is being operated by her daughter while she is in detention, supporters say.)

Kashmir is in dispute between Pakistan and India. It became an autonomous Indian state after independence from Britain in 1947, but it did so under an agreement that eventually Kashmiris, who are predominately Muslim, would be allowed to vote on whether to stay with India or join Pakistan. That vote never occurred.

In August, the Indian government suddenly revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, in a bid to increase its hold on the territory. On Thursday, India will officially change the status of Jammu and Kashmir, making it a federally controlled territory rather than a state. The move will separate it into two union territories — Ladakh as one territory, and Jammu and Kashmir as another.

The revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy was welcomed by most Indian political parties, even the opposition. But many protested how it was done, including the jailing of elected politicians and the curbs on communication and travel. Doctors say people have died because ambulances have been delayed at checkpoints.

“It’s an insult to India’s Parliament when democratically elected parliamentarians from India are forbidden from traveling within their own country and must seek permission to travel to Jammu and Kashmir,” Gaurav Gogoi, a lawmaker with the opposition Indian National Congress party, said in an interview.

“My only hope is that Indian parliamentarians are allowed the same privileges that the E.U. delegation is being shown,” Mr. Gogoi said.

Although the Indian government insisted that the Europeans were visiting in a personal capacity and had not officially been invited by New Delhi, on Monday they met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his national security adviser, Ajit Doval.

One government official, who insisted on anonymity to brief journalists, said that an Indian nongovernmental organization had arranged the visit. The official declined to elaborate and insisted that the delegation robustly represented various European parties, not just far-right groups.

The European delegation visited Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, on Tuesday and was to receive a briefing from security officials.

When contacted, several of the European embassies in New Delhi whose countries are represented in the delegation said they had been kept in the dark about the visit, and that they had found out about it from media reports.