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Perception war has begun: EU observers in Kashmir, Indian liberals cry foul

Perception war has begun: EU observers in Kashmir, Indian liberals cry foul
Liberals are aghast that a largely right-wing group of Members of European Parliament (MEP) are presently in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir to form a first-hand opinion, after its special status was withdrawn in August.

The visit by 23 EU parliamentarians, technically the initiative of little-known non-governmental group Women's Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT), is an "unofficial" one, since neither European Union nor the Indian government are directly involved, yet given the noise you would think it's one of the biggest threat to the "Liberal Order" since World War II.

Nationalism was a great revolutionary force till the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany in the first half of the 20th century, but after World War II it was clubbed with Nazism and Fascism by the victorious "Liberal Order", which shaped the world in the narrative of "globalization, free trade and human rights." Europe sought to eclipse nationalism through the European Union of open borders.

Yet, in essence, the "Liberal Order" became a narrative of the "elites" which waged wars, created corporate empires, and sucked the developing world dry of its land, labor and resources. Profit over people became the maxim.

But disenchantment has now set in. Nationalist or populist forces have brought the likes of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi and even Donald Trump on to the center-stage. European Union itself is battling for it survival.

Brexit is just a symptom of people's distrust, or Euroscepticism. Unemployment and immigration are core issues. Nationalist forces are on the rise: As per Bloomberg, support for populist forces in 22 of 28 EU countries now has never been higher in the last 30 years.

Nationalists from Italy, France, Poland and Hungary are the majority in EU parliament. Traditional parties for the first time weren't voted into a majority by 400 million people in the 751-seat strong European parliament this May. A broad nationalist front, European Alliance of People and Nations (EAPN), with a "Europe of fatherlands" as its mission, has been set in motion.

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Viewed against this backdrop, the outcry over the visit of EU parliamentarians to Kashmir was a given. Indian Express reminded its readers that one of them, Thierry Mariani of France, had supported Russia after it took Crimea in 2014. Western media pointed out that the Modi government only days ago had denied a similar permission to US congressmen. The general refrain is that Modi prefers "fascist, islamophobic" forces to "liberal voices" in Europe.

"Should we invite Ilhan Omar? Or Jeremy Corbyn who have hostile views on India? Or The Economist, New York Times, CNN and Washington Post etc., who are known to harbor anti-India views? How do they want us to fight this information war," Rebuts Kanwal Sibal, India's former foreign secretary, said in his TV comment.

"These EU parliamentarians have won people's mandate. They are elected representatives of people. They are no more or no less than other parliamentarians. Why disrespect people's choice," added Sibal.

Closer to home, the Indian opposition is bristling with anger that Kashmir Valley remains out of bounds for them, but not for their counterparts in EU.

"Who's internationalizing the issue now," the opposition asked the ruling BJP, who has all along said that J&K is an "internal" issue.

"How could the state be normal when leaders of political parties are still under house arrest," is another angry response from different opposition forces. Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim leader, groups both Modi government and visiting EU parliamentarians together as "islamophobic."

But do EU parliamentarians "internationalize" the issue? Not really, since they are not "intervening" in Kashmir. It's a perception battle, for which Modi government is readying itself for the coming months, even years. And didn't the opposition itself "internationalize" the issue by seeking out Corbyn on Kashmir recently?

Leaders of political parties are under house arrest, but that's because the authorities don't wish to take chances with the likes of former state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who had warned of "rivers of blood" if Kashmir's special status was revoked.

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Indian opposition leaders are denied visits because their agenda is not "human rights", but politics. It would directly play into the hands of Pakistan, which quotes them in international forums, as Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan recently did in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

If you are so worried about human rights then include it in your election manifesto that you would restore special status of Kashmir if you come to power, Modi said at a rally recently. The fact is that Indian parliament had overwhelmingly voted against the "special status" of Jammu & Kashmir recently.

The charge of Islamophobia also seems far-fetched. J&K is comprised of diverse religious groups and not just Muslims. EU parliamentarians being opposed to migrants isn't Islamophobia. Besides, the "special status" to J&K was blocking nationally implemented social welfare schemes from benefiting the locals, including Muslims. A larger voter turnout in the recent Block Development Council (BDC) elections in the state is cited as proof of people's support.

It's not to say that the EU parliamentarians' visit was without the shadow of deaths. At least five migrant workers were gunned down by terrorists, shops were forcibly closed in Srinagar, and stone-pelters targeted armed forces in narrow lanes of old Srinagar. It is as if the terrorists were intent that EU parliamentarians won't carry a "peaceful Kashmir" image back home. But then, the perception war has just begun.

By Ashish Shukla, a senior journalist and geopolitical analyst based in India, author of 'How United States Shot Humanity'. He runs a website, NewsBred.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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