London/Srinagar/New Delhi: A senior UK politician claimed on Tuesday that the Indian government withdrew with little explanation its invitation to him to be part of an EU delegation currently on a visit to Kashmir after he demanded to speak with local people without a police escort.
A delegation of 23 MPs from the European Union reached Srinagar on Tuesday for a two-day visit during which they will be briefed on the situation by government officials and also meet a cross-section of local people.
The team originally comprised 27 parliamentarians, mostly from extreme right or right wing parties, but four did not travel to Kashmir and have reportedly returned to their respective countries, officials said.
Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Chris Davies said the decision showed the Indian government was trying to hide the "reality of its actions" and blocking absolute freedom of the press.
"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world needs to start taking notice," said Davies, whose invite for the visit between October 27 and 30 was reportedly rescinded.
On Monday, the members of the European Parliament met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi during which he expressed hope that they have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including to Jammu and Kashmir.
"Their visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, apart from giving them a clear view of the development and government priorities of the region," a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.
Davies, who represents his UK constituents from the north-west of England in the EU Parliament, was reportedly invited by the Indian officials to visit Jammu and Kashmir two months after the government revoked Article 370 in the region to bring it in line with the rest of the country.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who hosted a lunch for the 27 visitors, also gave them an overview of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
But Davies claims the invitation was "promptly withdrawn with little explanation" after he insisted he must be free to talk with local people, unaccompanied by police or security forces, and invite journalists without interrogation.
"What is it that the Indian government has to hide? Why will it not give journalists and visiting politicians free access to speak with local people? I represent thousands of people in the North West of England who have family associations with Kashmir. They want to be able to speak freely to their relatives. They want their voices to be heard," he said.
"I fear that this is not going to end well. Governments do not win the hearts and minds of people by taking away their freedoms and imposing military rule. The risk of a violent backlash is all too evident," Davies said.
is office said that the MEP would like to visit the region at a future date as he represents the North West of England, which has thousands of constituents of Kashmiri heritage with many having relatives in Kashmir.
"Communication difficulties with families is just as one of the issues that has been raised with him," a spokesperson said.
Clashes, shutdown as EU MPs reach Kashmir
The delegation of 23 EU MPs arrived here on Tuesday for a first-hand assessment of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir to a complete shutdown and clashes between people and security forces in several parts of the city and the Valley.
A convoy of security vehicles escorted the MPs, who were travelling in bullet-proof jeeps, from the airport to their hotel where a traditional Kashmiri welcome awaited them.
The team, on a two-day visit, was briefed by senior security officials on the situation in the Valley and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir and also met delegations of the general public.
There was a complete shutdown in the city and at least four people were injured in numerous clashes between protesters and security forces in various parts of the Valley and in Srinagar, officials said.
People put up blockades in at least five different places in Srinagar, including Downtown Srinagar and 90 Feet Road. Shops and business establishments were closed and transport off the roads due to the clashes.
Vendors, who had been setting up their stall over the past weeks, also did not turn up on Tuesday, officials said. However, board examinations for Class 10 were held on schedule with worried parents waiting outside exam halls for their children.
This 23 EU MPs are the first high-level foreign visitors to Kashmir after the August 5 decision of the Centre to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and bifurcate the state into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The team originally comprised 27 parliamentarians, many from extreme right or right wing parties, but four did not travel to Kashmir and have reportedly returned to their respective countries, officials said without divulging any reason.
A few weeks ago, a senator of the United States was denied permission to visit Kashmir.
A joint delegation of opposition MPs, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, undertaking a visit to Kashmir about two months ago, was not allowed to go beyond the Srinagar airport after their arrival from Delhi and were sent back to the national capital.
(With PTI inputs)