The Centre must change the situation in Kashmir, not just the global perception of it On the face of it, the government’s decision to allow the first foreign delegation to visit Srinagar, nearly three months after the decision to amend Article 370 of the Constitution and split the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, is a positive step. After a clampdown, arrests of political activists and mainstream leaders, communication blockades and a denial of access to politicians from the rest of India, the invitation to more than 20 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) could pave the way for more openness in the State, more such delegations, which would help the government with its claims of “normalcy” there. Instead, the manner in which the visit was organised has eroded rather than enhanced its credibility. It is puzzling why the government honoured invitations by an unknown businessperson in Brussels linked to an equally obscure think tank in Delhi. That people of unclear standing and antecedents have such easy access to the Prime Minister’s office, so as to be issuing “VIP invitations” on his behalf, and to arrange meetings with the Vice-President of India, National Security Adviser and External Affairs Minister smacks of an unseemly backdoor arrangement not conducive to democratic transparency. The choice of this delegation has also raised eyebrows. A majority of those travelling to Srinagar belong to anti-immigration and far-right parties in the U.K., France, Italy, Poland and Germany. That they were taken to Srinagar, but given, by their own admission, very little access to locals, seems to defeat the visit’s purpose. In addition, the brutal killing of five migrant workers in the Valley by suspected Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists on Tuesday appears to reinforce security concerns over any sense of normalcy there. The government must take stock of whether such heavily scripted photo opportunities pass for real value in any image-building exercise. Having invited the delegation, however, the government must listen carefully to their impressions of the visit. While most endorsed India’s stand of Kashmir’s reorganisation being an “internal matter” and said they “stand by” India on the subject of terrorism, at least one of the MEPs asked why Indian MPs have not been allowed to visit. It is ironic that the government chose to take European MEPs to Srinagar and speak to the media there, but has successfully blocked Opposition leaders from visiting, and the few who have received Supreme Court permission to travel there have been barred from speaking or making political comments. It must also be remembered that while the MEPs toured Kashmir, one of India’s most senior parliamentarians, former Cabinet Minister and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is detained. Thousands of other Kashmiris, many of whom have not even been charged in the past nearly three months, are in prisons within and outside Kashmir. More than 50,000 extra security personnel sent in August remain in place. And both communications and the movement of people are still severely restricted. Rather than focusing on image-building, the government would be better placed if it works on improving the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which remains grim for ordinary civilians on a daily basis.