Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a delegation of European Parliament MPs, New Delhi, October 28, 2019.
The government’s initiative to sponsor the visit to J&K by a 28-member delegation of the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is a belated step in the right direction. It is a modest step, likely tentative and probably intended to test the waters. The MEPs are reportedly visiting India in their “private capacity” and have been likely handpicked by the MEA after careful screening, making sure of their pro-India leanings.
But, never mind, something is better than nothing.
The government’s paranoia is illogical, since the world media is already having access to J&K, and it is counterproductive, since it only reinforces the perception that Delhi has something to hide. Words like genocide, Nazism, Hitler, etc. are being bandied about cavalierly by our enemies.
Look at the Pakistani side — how media savvy they are, and how quick on their feet to invite last week the foreign diplomats based in Islamabad (including the Indian Mission, ironically) to visit the LOC on a conducted tour. The fact that it is a conducted tour, sanitised for public view, becomes the small print here, and what stands out is that Pakistani military is transparent while our general is breathing fire and brimstone.
Delhi needs to seriously think through this mess it has created for itself. When a senior cabinet minister who is one heartbeat away from the prime minister himself decries human rights as sheer rubbish and inconsequential, isn’t he only contributing unwittingly to the Pakistani narrative?
It all began with the misguided, unnecessarily defensive posturing that what is happening in J&K is an “internal matter.” The visit by the MEPs and their photo-op with PM Modi in Delhi today would suggest that we have now given a quiet burial to the “internal matter” charade.
The MEPs do not make policies in the European chancelleries. The diplomatic dividends are miniscule. Therefore, the next step should be to organise a visit to J&K by the EU ambassadors based in Delhi. In the early nineties, we did rather well in this regard by inviting the Dean of the EU ambassadors based in Delhi. Fortunately, he happened to be the ambassador of Greece who was an open-minded genial diplomat (who rose to become the county’s foreign secretary) and was willing to help India, which he admired as a fascinating experiment in secularism and democracy, to tide over a difficult period in the international opinion.
We in MEA held a few sessions with him and encouraged him to lead a delegation of EU envoys to visit J&K. It was a risky move but turned out well and in hindsight, might have turned the tide of opinion in western capitals significantly in favour of India. Of course, it was a grind. MEA needs to slog patiently without losing its cool, as has happened, unfortunately, in the case of Turkey and Malaysia. Why link Kashmir issue with palm oil? Whose hare-brained idea was it anyway?
The tenacity of our diplomacy gets tested when we take on critics and adversaries in a constructive spirit. Look at how China tackled the OIC. Beijing sponsored a team of OIC observers to visit Xinjiang and look at the results. The OIC foreign ministers’ meeting in Abu Dhabi last year actually commended Beijing for its policies in Xinjiang.
By the way, Turkey was the harshest critic in the Muslim world of the Chinese methods of handing the Uighurs. (This is also an emotive issue within Turkey.) But China engaged with President Recep Erdogan, got him over on a state visit and offered him a full-fledged economic partnership. Erdogan no longer gets agitated over the Uighur question. Turkey since refuses to join the western campaign regarding Xinjiang.
Admittedly, compared to the early nineties, today’s situation in J&K is vastly different. Thirty years ago, cross-border terrorism was the leitmotif of the situation in J&K. Today, that is far from the case. The crux of the matter is the lockdown in the Valley as such, which has no precedent. Nonetheless, as the restrictions are slowly being removed, we are getting a window of opportunity to let the international community to see first hand.
To be sure, be prepared for some harsh criticism initially, but do not adopt the attitude ‘you-are-either-with-us-or-are against-us’. Simply, continue to engage the critics, talk with them, reason with them — and, certainly, get them over to see the rest of India, too.
No doubt, this is going to be a long haul and trust Pakistan to make the journey as difficult as possible every inch of the way. But then, we are only to be blamed for squandering away five golden years from 2014 to 2019, twiddling our thumbs and fixated on the delusional idea that the Indian state has the power and the political will to bludgeon Kashmiris into submission.
The worst thing that could have happened was to have believed in our own narrative, as faithfully rendered day in and day out by the Arnabs, Rahuls and Navikas of our TV channels on behalf of their mentors in the establishment. But, it seems, the enlightened decision makers in the government belatedly realise that in an interconnected world, opinions and perceptions matter, and they need to be cultivated.
If the visit by the MEPs to J&K tomorrow signals that the hubris of the ruling elite is dissipating, it is a good thing to happen. Hopefully, in that case, we’d have entered the passage leading towards the door we should never have slammed shut in the first instance.