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Modi govt’s trip for envoys to J&K exposes rift between home and external affairs ministries

The Narendra Modi government’s second trip for foreign envoys to Jammu and Kashmir also turned out to be a damp squib even as the situation in the Valley remains tense. But while the first visit of Right-wing European parliamentarians in November 2019 was criticised as a “PR stunt”, the two-day visit of 15 envoys last week had an unintended consequence: it exposed the tension between the Modi government’s two ministries – the external affairs ministry and the home ministry.

On both occasions, the Modi government’s intention was for the world to see the ‘normalcy’ in Jammu and Kashmir after it scrapped the erstwhile state’s special status by diluting Article 370 in August last year. Under pressure internationally over its clampdown on all communication channels, the Modi government hoped to take control of the narrative by organising a visit of Right-wing parliamentarians, but the move backfired. Now, its second attempt too has seemingly failed.

Senior officials in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) are of the view that the Modi government must resolve these “pressing issues immediately” to not attract more international criticism. But they have found little support from the Ministry of Home Affairs led by Amit Shah.

A hurried visit

The Modi government may not realise this but a lot of troubles stem from the way the two-day visit, organised by the MEA and the MHA together, was conducted. The envoys spent only one night, in Jammu, during their trip to the new union territory.

The envoys left from Delhi early morning of 9 January and went straight to Srinagar, Kashmir. Amid tight security, they visited the military headquarters and met some civil society groups before leaving for Jammu the same day. They spend the night of 9 January in Jammu, travelled to a few places there the following day – the highlight being a visit to the refugee camps for Kashmiri Pandits – and returned to Delhi that same evening.

If the government really intended the envoys to see the situation in the Valley “first-hand”, it needed to do more than letting them spend only three-four hours with little to no access to common civilians as well as local political leaders who are under detention.

More troubles

The envoys’ visit, which the 28-member European Union grouping refused to be a part of, has opened a Pandora’s box of issues for the Modi government instead of soothing the international community’s nerves.

For one, it once again got slammed by the US for the continued communication lockdown, less than 24 hours after American Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, who was part of the visiting group, touched down in Delhi.

The US State Department expressed concerns over internet restrictions and detention of local political leaders in J&K for over five months now.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells tweeted Saturday that the Trump administration would “look forward to a return to normalcy” in the Valley. Wells, who is visiting Delhi this week, will be taking up the matter with the Modi government.

Second, it gave the opposition yet another chance to badger the BJP for holding another guided tour. Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh called it “double standards” of the Modi government for allowing foreign diplomats to travel to Kashmir while barring Indian politicians from visiting the valley.

Security loophole

The Modi government’s main focus since the Article 370 move has been on strengthening the security apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir. And the last thing it would have wanted was it to come undone in front of foreign envoys. DSP Davinder Singh, who was part of the security ring of the envoys at the airport, was arrested Saturday with two Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in south Kashmir. He has been booked under the Unlawful Activity Act and will be tried as a “terrorist”.

This won’t look well for the Modi government, which is fast losing support internationally, even in the US. The resolution on Kashmir by Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, introduced in the House of Representatives on 6 December 2019, got support from six more members last week, taking the total number of cosponsors to 36.

The resolution seeks to urge New Delhi to end the communication restrictions and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents. The resolution, even if it never becomes law, is indicative of the fact that days of India enjoying bipartisan support in the US Congress are certainly numbered now.