European Union MPs who visited Jammu and Kashmir held a press briefing on Wednesday to talk about their two-day visit, the first time an international team has been allowed into the region since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.
Many members of the media, including local Kashmiri newspapers, were kept out of the briefing, NDTV reported.
The irony seemed lost on Henri Malosse, French business representative and the former president of the European Economic and Social Committee, who was a member of the group and interacted with the press at the briefing.
He said, “It’s a good sign that India has a free press if we look at the neighbourhood.”
Malosse added, “The scenery is beautiful, we were very impressed by the beauty of the region and the engagement of the people we met.”
“We are your friends, we are here to find facts,” another member of the team said during the interaction, Hindustan Times reported.
“Good to have a first glance about the situation.. hope next time we have more contact with civil society,” France’s Thierri Mariani said, NDTV quoted.
Malosse said the team got a briefing from the army and police as well as young activists and exchanged “ideas of peace”.
However, Hermann Tertsch, a parliamentarian from Spain, told The Wire that “some people” were being kept away from them.
“Some are not, but some people were kept away and we are very conscious about it that some people are being kept away from us,” he said.
Poland’s Ryszard Czarnecki said, “The international media coverage seems biased. Once we go back to our countries we will inform them of what we saw.”
MP Nicolaus Fest told ANI the Indian government should allow Opposition leaders to visit the region.
Meanwhile, UK MP Chris Davies said on Tuesday he had been dropped from the trip after he asked that he be free to talk to people and invite journalists along. In a statement, he said “I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It is very clear that democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir, and the world needs to start taking notice.”
The group on Wednesday said that they had nothing to do with Indian politics and visited the state to meet the common people. “We have no interest in Indian politics. We just wanted to meet the common people. Coming to Kashmir was a pleasant experience. Work is progressing in the right direction here. People of Kashmir want peace and development. They want schools and hospitals.” Express
Newton Dunn from the UK described the visit as “excellent” and an “eye-opener”
The group called Article 370 an internal issue of India and said the visit was not to interfere in India’s internal matter. They also said they stood with India in its fight against terrorism.
“If we talk about Article 370 it is India’s internal matter. What concerns us is terrorism which is a global menace and we should stand with India in fighting it. There was an unfortunate incident of killing of five innocent labourers by terrorists. We condemn it,” Malosse said.
The team originally comprised 27 parliamentarians, many from extreme right or right-wing parties in Europe, but four did not travel to Kashmir and have reportedly returned to their respective countries, officials said told PTI without divulging any reason. The visit has drawn flak from Opposition leaders in India.
Mariani took issue with reports on the composition of the group and said, “By calling us fascists, our image has been tarnished. It’s better that one should know about us properly before tarnishing our image.”
The team had arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday to a complete shutdown, stone-pelting and clashes between people and security forces in several parts of the city and the Valley. They will leave the country on Wednesday.