FEAR OF CRITICISM

Deportation of UK parliamentarian from Delhi is yet another indication of govt’s intolerance and insecurity with respect to criticism on Kashmir

The deportation from Delhi international airport of a UK Labour Party parliamentarian Debbie Abrahams, who has been critical of Indian government’s move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposition of curfew and crushing of civil liberties, on Monday reflects the paranoia of the government and its insecurity with respect to controlling Kashmir. While the Indian government has yet to come out with an official response on the issue, some media organization quoting official sources said that Abrahams was not carrying a valid visa, a charge refuted by the latter. Only an official statement can clear the mist on this issue, though the contention that the British parliamentarian was not carrying a valid visa is less likely in view of the fact that she cleared immigration in London from where she travelled via Dubai. If her papers were not in order, she wouldn’t have been on the flight.

As a British parliamentarian, she was also entitled to visa on arrival. Not only was this denied, she has alleged that she was treated like a criminal before she was deported to Dubai. The case is shocking and could have severe diplomatic implications between India and UK, a risk that appears to have been taken solely in view of the fact that Debbie Abrahams had been outspoken in her criticism of the Indian government’s moves in Kashmir. The incident demonstrates not only the lack of confidence of the government but also its intolerance to criticism and its hypocrisy as it beats the trumpet of normalcy in Kashmir. While on the one hand, the government has allowed three delegations of foreign envoys to visit Kashmir in the last four months, two of which were organized by the government on conducted tours to meet security experts, few delegations and enjoy shikara ride. Majority of the diplomats have returned back to present a rosy picture suiting the narrative of the government that ‘All is well’. If the friendly envoys could be taken for a guided tour to Kashmir, certainly a different yardstick cannot be applied for Debbie Abrahams, who was not even going to Kashmir.

The government’s insecurity with respect to criticism, particularly on Kashmir is detrimental to the interests of normalizing things in the Valley. So intense has been the obsession of the government that it has not even allowed Indian lawmakers to enter Kashmir. Some civil society activists also bore the same brunt. Many of them were deported from Srinagar airport in the past. Last week in the face of criticism with respect to the pick and choose manner in which people had been allowed to visit the Valley, union home minister Amit Shah had said that nobody was now being stopped from going. The home minister should now walk his talk. The deportation of the UK parliamentarian is not the indication that there is still many a slip between the tongue and the lip. On Saturday, civil society activist OP Shah, wo has worked on Kashmir for several years, and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar had organized a meeting with civil society activists in Srinagar inside a hotel but the attempt was thwarted. A basic condition of normalcy is the ability of people to speak words that are uncomfortable for the rulers. If the government is keen on restoring normalcy in the Valley, the freedom to move and talk are imperative for restoring the confidence of the public towards that end. It must shed its obsessive paranoia.