CAA & Kashmir: The world watches

Print edition : February 28, 2020

The European Union delegation at Dal Lake in Srinagar on October 29. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Resolutions tabled in the E.U. Parliament are the latest indication of growing international concern about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the situation in Kashmir.

GLOBAL scrutiny of India’s unilateral action in Kashmir and the long spell of communications shutdown that it imposed in the Valley has not let up. The European Parliament has called for a vote on a resolution that decries, among other things, the human rights situation in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Originally scheduled for January 30, the vote was postponed until March, a development that sources in the Union government described as a diplomatic victory over pro-Pakistan groups within the European Union. But the possibility of the E.U. ratifying the resolution in a month’s time looms large. A Congressional panel in the United States met on October 22 to assess cases of reported excesses in the Kashmir Valley.

Parliamentarians across the globe have independently voiced concern over Kashmir, an indication of the Narendra Modi government’s failure to cobble up support for India in diplomatic backchannels.

Six resolutions tabled ahead of the E.U. Parliament plenary, which began in Brussels on January 29, criticised the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), calling it “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”, and condemned India’s decision to end the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir without consulting the local leadership. These resolutions have been drafted by various groups within the E.U., including the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), the European People’s Party (EPP), the Greens/European Free Alliance (Verts/ALE), the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, the Renew Europe Group and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left. One of the resolutions calls on both India and Pakistan to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Refugee Agency report on Kashmir, which had advocated an “urgent repeal of the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act]” and called for “independent, impartial and credible investigations to probe all civilian killings since July 2016 and all abuses committed by armed groups”.

As the E.U. Parliament’s plenary commenced, however, the vote was postponed to March, presumably in order to not jeopardise the E.U.-India summit that is expected to take place on March 13. The official explanation for the postponement was that it was imperative to study the nuances of the Act and watch out for the Indian Supreme Court’s position on the new legislation. The postponement, it was said, would allow E.U. parliamentarians time to interact with India’s Ministers, including Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar, who is scheduled to visit Brussels in February to lay the foundation of the India-E.U. summit.

E.U.-India summit

There is also a perception that an openly hostile position against India can potentially undermine India-E.U. relations in a post-Brexit world order, and that too at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is slated to visit India in February to explore grounds for an expansion of bilateral ties and trade. Helena Dalli, European Commission Vice President and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who opened the debate, spoke of the “rich, frank and open relationship” between the E.U. and India. “We believe that it is the role of the Supreme Court of India to assess the compliance of the law with the Constitution, and we are confident that the ongoing judicial process will contribute to appeasing the tensions and violence witnessed over the past weeks in the country,” she said in what was seen as bid to send a signal of reassurance to New Delhi. She referred to India as a “respected democracy” and emphasised the need for the E.U. to “pursue and intensify” dialogue with India.

The plenary also witnessed voices that came out heavily in support of India, in particular from two Indian-origin Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Dinesh Dhamija and Neena Gill, who claimed there was in the parliamentary motion a design to spread disinformation about the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). French MEP Thierry Mariani blamed Pakistan for having played a role in the tabling of seemingly anti-India resolutions. The Identity and Democracy Group, a far-right group whose MEPs were part of a “guided tour” of Kashmir arranged by the government in October 2019, said the resolution on the CAA should be withdrawn as it was “very badly timed”.

There were also voices that criticised the E.U. Parliament for bowing down to India’s backchannel diplomatic manoeuvres and for failing to prioritise human rights concerns arising out of the CAA and the situation in Kashmir. Among such voices were Pakistani-origin MEP Shaffaq Mohammed and the S&D’s John Howarth and Verts/ALE’s Scott Ainslie. On January 29, the E.U. Parliament decided to postpone the vote to the next session beginning on March 2. The EPP, the largest group in the E.U. Parliament backing the resolutions against India, said that while a debate on the situation in India and the purported assault on civilian liberties should be held as per schedule, a vote on whether to ratify the resolutions should be postponed to the next session. This proposal was accepted by the majority of the 483 parliamentarians present, 271 to 199. According to a report published in The Hindu citing sources in the government, India saw the postponement as a “diplomatic victory” and blamed Pakistan, and in particular British MEP Shaffaq Mohammad, for bringing the motion.

The resolutions, if ratified, are not legally binding and would be only handed over to the European Commission for its consideration. Yet, they are relevant to the way India is perceived on the global stage. That explains New Delhi’s discomfort, especially at a time when the country has been getting bad press abroad amid empathy for Kashmiris and condemnation of the government’s unilateral action in Jammu and Kashmir.

U.S. Congressional panel on kashmir

At the U.S. Congressional panel meet on October 22, Kashmir dominated the discourse. Among those most critical of India was Ilhan Omar, a Somalia-born Democrat from Minnesota who issued a thorough condemnation of the “Hindu nationalist project” of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Referring to some of the BJP government’s recent exercises such as those relating to Article 370 and the NRC in Assam, Ilhan Omar wondered how there could be a partnership between India and U.S. based on shared values: “At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?”

The opening remarks were made by Brad Sherman. Pointing out that the entire world was currently focussed on what was happening in Kashmir, he mentioned that Senator Chris Van Hollen had recently been denied permission to travel there. Sherman demanded: “Are we supposed to trust these Government of India officials when the Government of India doesn’t allow our diplomats to visit?” He also criticised the severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communications in Kashmir. David Trone from Maryland also questioned India’s refusal to allow delegations into Kashmir.

New Delhi came in for further attack over its decision to isolate the Kashmir Valley when New Jersey’s Tom Malinowski asked U.S. officials whether they were in agreement that the restrictions on access to journalists and diplomats to the region served the purpose of counterterrorism. He emphasised that the clampdown on communications and other restrictions “disempower the very people who want to be our allies”. The lawmakers Ted Yoho, Abigail Spanberger and Mike Fitzpatrick appealed to New Delhi to take steps to ease the restrictions and end the detention of political leaders.

Soon after August 5, when India abrogated Article 370, prominent rights advocates and independent lawmakers from around the world censured the arbitrary treatment of Kashmir. “The Indian government’s lengthy shutdown of the Internet and telephones in Jammu and Kashmir inflicts disproportionate harm on the population and should be immediately lifted,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on August 28. “We need de-escalation, not the hiding of what’s happening,” said Ted Lieu, a California Democrat in the U.S.House of Representatives. U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders denounced India’s action as “unacceptable”. “The communications blockade must be lifted immediately, and the United States government must speak out boldly in support of international humanitarian law and in support of a U.N.-backed peaceful resolution that respects the will of the Kashmiri people,” he said.

The E.U. Parliament’s resolutions, despite the temporary stalling of the vote, are the latest indication that the international narrative may be slipping out of the Modi government’s hands.

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