Srinagar: Empty shikaras on the iconic Dal Lake, shut shops and heavy security greeted the European Parliamentarians who are on a two-day visit to Kashmir, amid a raging controversy over their far-Right political leanings.
While some “civil delegation” members who were supposed to visit the parliamentarians hid their faces, others said they had no clue who they were supposed to meet. In the midst of all this, one parliamentarian from Spain, Hermann Tertsch, said “he was conscious that the delegation was being kept away from some people”.
The day began with violent clashes between local residents and security forces across Srinagar prompting authorities to deploy additional J&K police and CRPF personnel at vulnerable areas of the city.
To the disappointment of the state administration, the only road in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk that had displayed some semblance of normalcy wore a deserted look with vendors at a flea market there deciding not to conduct business today. Shops and business establishments continued to remain shut.
There were, however, private vehicles on the road as Wednesday was the first day of annual examinations for Class 10 students. Public transport, though, remained off the roads across the Valley.
There were also multiple stone-pelting incidents with a CRPF patrolling party coming under attack near a school in Pulwama.
The MPs’ Kashmir visit
The delegation, upon landing in Srinagar, was escorted to the Badami Bagh Cantonment where they were briefed by senior army officials. An official source told ThePrint that the delegation was “briefed on issues ranging from local militancy and cross-border terrorism”.
The briefing was followed by a lunch organised by the Indian Army following which the delegation accompanied by army and paramilitary officials headed to the upscale The Lalit Grand Palace hotel, which hosted the interaction between the European Parliamentarians and civil society members.
The posh Boulevard area, where the hotel is located, was sanitised by security forces earlier in the day.
At around 3.30 pm, “civil delegations” accompanied by security forces and state administration officials, arrived at the venue in a horde of vehicles. Some members of the civil delegations, without getting out of their vehicles, briefly interacted with dozens of media personnel awaiting them.
A few, however, grew uncomfortable with the media presence and hid their faces. One woman, upon being photographed yelled out, “This is a security breach”.
ThePrint managed to speak to at least three of the civilians who identified themselves as panches and sarpanches from various villages of Kashmir.
Mansoor Ahmed from Pattan area of north Kashmir said that he was a sarpanch in his village. When asked what he hoped to get out of the interaction, Ahmed said, “Once we meet them then only we can tell.”
Syed Hassan from Uri said he was informed by the local police about his impending meeting with a foreign delegation. “I was told that I have to meet a delegation. We were brought here (Srinagar) by the police,” said Hassan.
Ghulam Mohammad Sofi said he was not sure about who exactly he was supposed to meet or interact with.
While the civil delegations managed to enter the hotel after being checked by the security forces, one such group was not so lucky.
This delegation comprised of three local BJP faces, including the state spokesperson Altaf Thakur, who after being disallowed from entering the hotel came out through the main gate and claimed he had met the delegation.
Thakur told the waiting media personnel that the European delegation had acknowledged that some “forces were trying to spread propaganda about Kashmir” and that Kashmiri people wanted peace and development.
The European delegation, however, arrived around an hour-and-a-half after Thakur’s statement.
A local BJP leader later told ThePrint that the security forces informed him and Thakur that their names were not on the list of people supposed to meet the European parliamentarians.
Shikara ride lands in a row
After meeting the civil delegations, the European parliamentarians took a shikara ride on Dal Lake following which they attend a dinner hosted by the civil administration.
The shikara ride too did not pass off without a controversy. Local shikara owners claimed that authorities had asked them to park some of their boats in the middle of Dal to ensure the lake looked more picturesque.
The civil administration is likely to apprise the European Parliamentarians about issues of governance post the scrapping of Article 370. The parliamentarians are likely to have an interaction with select group of journalists or hold a press conference Wednesday, the time and venue of which hasn’t been decided yet.
The visit, organised by a European NGO, is the first-ever by foreign dignitaries since Article 370 was scrapped.