NEW DELHI: A group of MPs from the European Union, ahead of its visit to Jammu and Kashmir, today met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said their visit "should give them a clear view of the development and governance priorities of the region". Twenty-seven EU MPs will fly tomorrow to Jammu and Kashmir, where restrictions are in place since the Centre's decision to end special status to the state under Article 370 and split it into two union territories.
This is the first visit by an international group in Jammu and Kashmir since the Centre's move. The list mostly includes lawmakers belonging to Europe's right wing parties -- only three of the 27 MPs belong to the Left or liberal parties. All of them are visiting India in their private capacity.
Sources said the group met PM Modi as well as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
In a communique, the PM's office said, "Prime Minister, while welcoming the delegation to India, expressed the 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 governance priorities of the region."
Without naming Pakistan, PM Modi told the EU lawmakers that urgent action was required against all those who support or sponsor terror activities and use terrorism as a state policy.
Last week, a group of US lawmakers expressed concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following the Centre's move to end the state's special granted under the Constitution and bifurcate it into two union territories.
Alice Wells, the Acting US Assistant Secretary of State, had said the US State department had "raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir".
"We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks," she said at the meeting held last week.
The US had earlier agreed that the government's move in Jammu and Kashmir was an internal matter of India. The Centre had also assured the international community that it was taking steps to normalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Congress's Jairam Ramesh hit out at the government for allowing the European lawmakers to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
The Congress has been demanding that it be allowed to visit Jammu and Kashmir. Late in August, Congress's Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders were turned away from the Srinagar airport when they tried to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
Today, tweeting under the hashtag "#InsultToIndianDemocracy!", Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said: "My request, made during the LokSabha debate on Article 370, for an All-Party delegation of MPs to visit to see the situation for themselves, has still not been accepted. But members of the EuropeanParliament can travel as our Government's guests? What an #InsultToIndianDemocracy!"
Following the news of the EU lawmakers' visit, Sana Iltija Javed, the daughter of detained Kashmiri leader Mehbooba Mufti, tweeted: "Hope they get a chance to speak to the people, local media, doctors and civil society members. The iron curtain between Kashmir & the world needs to be lifted and GOI must be held accountable for pushing J&K into turmoil".
A former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Ms Mufti has been under detention since the government's announcement of the move to end Kashmir's special status in August. Two other former Chief Ministers of the state - 83-year-old Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah - are under detention as well.
The detention of more than 400 political leaders was a part of the Centre's security measures following the announcement to prevent a backlash in Jammu and Kashmir. Over the last weeks, the much of the restrictions have been lifted. Among other things, phone services - both landline and post-paid cellphone - have been restored, though cellphone internet is still out.