The MEPs told reporters they were not the “Muslim-hating Nazis” they had been projected as in media coverage of the trip, which critics have dismissed as a PR stunt ahead of the controversial formal retraction of the region’s statehood on Thursday.
After meeting Narendra Modi on Monday and touring parts of Srinagar under a heavy-armed escort on Tuesday, the MEPs said they would take back their findings with a view to issuing a resolution in the European parliament. The EU has distanced itself from the visit, saying each politician was acting in a private capacity.
And opposition parties have accused the Indian government of hand-picking MEPs from parties sympathetic to Mr Modi’s cause, including several from the UK’s Brexit Party, six from France’s National Rally (formerly National Front) and two from Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland.
The MEPs addressed a news conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, during which they condemned Kashmiri militant attacks overnight that killed five workers from eastern India, and praised Mr Modi’s administration for its efforts against the “global menace” of terrorism.
Thierry Mariani, an MEP for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, told reporters: “Terrorists can destroy a country. I have been to Afghanistan and Syria and I have seen what terrorism has done. We stand with India in its fight against terrorists.”
Bill Newton Dunn, the only Lib Dem MEP on the trip and one of a handful of political centrists, said the group “want to see India becoming the most peaceful country in the world”.
“For that we need to stand by India in its fight against global terrorism. This visit has been an eye-opener and we would definitely advocate what we have seen on ground zero,” he said.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Lars Patrick Berg – an Alternative für Deutschland MEP who was among four of the 27 to skip the Srinagar leg of the visit – said he had been “extremely happy” to meet Mr Modi. “After all, it’s not every day that the PM of a country interacts with ordinary parliamentarians like us,” he said.
He said Indian media hadn’t made a “fair assessment” of the European visitors. “Contrary to popular perception… conservative groups in the European parliament are not Muslim-hating Nazis,” he said.
“During our stay in India, I didn’t hear a single person – neither on our side nor on the Indian side – talk in terms of ‘hating Muslims’. There are those who live by the law and those who don’t, in every society.”
Critics of the trip have pointed to a statement by another Lib Dem MEP, Chris Davies, who said he was barred from taking part after insisting the parliamentarians be guaranteed unfettered access to properly assess the situation in Kashmir.
“I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well,” he said. “It is very clear that democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir, and the world needs to start taking notice.”
And attention has also turned to the mysterious background of the think tank responsible for funding and organising the visit, the International Institute for Non-aligned Studies (IINS).
A spokesperson for the main opposition Congress party asked how IINS founder Madi Sharma, who he dubbed an “international business broker”, was able to guarantee a group of mostly far-right MEPs “an appointment with the prime minister”.
“Will the prime minister tell as to who is Madi Sharma? What is BJP’s connection to… International Institute for Non-aligned Studies? Why has MEA (foreign ministry) been completely sidelined?” he asked.
Randeep Surjewala also accused the BJP of breaching the decades-old policy of treating Kashmir as an internal matter, “committ[ing] the gravest sin of reversing this policy… deliberately internationalis[ing] the Kashmir issue”.
The MEA did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the MEPs’ visit.
But it concluded one day before India was due to formally split up the Jammu and Kashmir state into two federal territories on Thursday, a divisive measure that has led to increased violence and protests in recent days.
The two new union territories, one consisting of Jammu and Kashmir and the other of the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh, will come under direct control from Delhi and the region will lose the right to make its own laws.
On Thursday, G C Murmu, a former bureaucrat from Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat, will be sworn in as the first lieutenant governor of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the government said. Another former civil servant, Radha Krishna Mathur, will take office as the lieutenant governor of Ladakh.
Wajahat Habibullah, a former bureaucrat who served in Kashmir and travelled to the region’s main city last month, told the Reuters news agency the loss of statehood was yet another humiliating setback for a region that has faced strict restrictions on movement and communications since 5 August.
“Whatever the attitude of (federal) governments in the past, [Kashmiris] at least felt they had something of their own. Now, there is a kind of feeling of having lost whatever freedom they had,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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