G20 members Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China and guest country Egypt on Monday skipped a much-publicised meeting here on tourism, but journalists’ questions on these nations’ absence and issues related to security and the political process in Kashmir prompted a Union minister to angrily query their “mindset”.
Naveed Iqbal, a local journalist who works for The Indian Express, had asked at the evening news conference that if such international events were possible in Kashmir, why not a political process. (Jammu and Kashmir has been without an Assembly since 2018.)
“I have been part of the media for quite some time; I think this question is motivated by the mindset which was haunting the earlier friend,” Union minister Jitendra Singh, who is attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, said.
The “earlier friend” was NDTV’s Nazir Masoodi, who had asked whether a fairly large participation was an endorsement of “India’s stand on Kashmir” or whether the government wanted the participation of even those opposed to that stand.
Singh said that “India’s stand on Kashmir” was a myth since Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India and asked rhetorically: “What is India’s stand on Punjab?”
The minister got into an argument with a French journalist who questioned the “very high security” and closure of schools for the meeting, eventually asking him not to frighten the delegates by questioning the security.
The three-day meeting of the G20 working committee group on tourism, which started on Monday, was being held in Srinagar to buttress the government’s claims of normality in the Valley.
However, the meeting is being organised under the shadow of the gun, with thousands of security personnel deployed along with the elite NSG commandos and the navy’s Marcos.
Many schools were shut in Srinagar and many businessmen complained that the authorities had forced them to stay open, defying a separatist call for a shutdown.
Among those representing the government at the news conference, apart from Singh, were Union tourism minister G. Kishan Reddy and a battery of bureaucrats including G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant and G20 chief coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
Geeta Mohan, who works for India Today, asked whether the non-participation of some countries was proof that their allegiance to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was greater than their strategic partnership with India.
Shringla asked her not to “miss the wood for the trees”, asserting that the meeting had drawn heavy participation. He argued that not all countries participate in all meetings.
“Some country not participating does not mean it has become an enemy of ours. Don’t take it to that level,” Kant later said.
Kant said that all countries except China were participating, and claimed that those who were not had sent their private travel and tour industry representatives.
Questions from local journalists who work for national media houses were met with unusual hostility.
To Masoodi’s questionon India seeking endorsement of its stand on Kashmir through the meeting, Singh retorted: “What is important is to understand the myth ofthis (India’s stand). What stand? What is India’s stand? Jammu and Kashmir is as much a part of India like any other state or Union Territory of India.
“I don’t understand what it means — India’s stand on Kashmir? What is India’s stand on Punjab, UT of Delhi or Goa? This is exactly what we need to see with our eyes and ears open, to clarify the clouding of thoughts about what has happened.”
Singh claimed that millions of young minds in Kashmir did not want to waste their time on the “false narrative” and said that those “creating these myths” were doing an injustice to them.
To Iqbal’s question on the need for the resumption of the political process, the minister appeared to be suggesting that the presence of local government made the restoration of the Assembly less than urgent.
“What do you mean by that? Political process is already going on. We have DDCs (district development councils) in place, BDCs (block development councils), panch and sarpanch councils. Is that not part of political process to you?” he said.
“You should compliment us, Narendra Modiji, that district councils were introduced after 70 years.”
When the journalist from French Radio said the high security and school closures were affecting people’s lives, Singh said that as a “well-informed journalist”, the questioner must have attended a few meetings back home in France with similar restrictions.
This prompted the journalist to ask whether Singh thought that schools were shut in France for such events.
“I did not say schools. But whenever there is a meeting of this scale… you always have a scaled-up security, even in France, in Paris,” Singh replied.
“I have seen, I have been witness, the hotels where they stay are cordoned off, lanes are cordoned off. Just because it is happening here, to an extent what you are saying, does not make it different.”
Singh said that security had been beefed up also for reasons of hospitality. “Please don’t project it like that. The delegates from other countries would get apprehensive by what you have said,” he said.
Asked whether the meeting would help the government persuade Western countries to lift their negative travel advisories on Kashmir, Kant said: “Hardly any country has issued a travel advisory.”
He added: “If travel advisory was so stringent... their representatives would not have come. All G7 countries are participating. What travel advisory are we talking about? Let us not get carried away by the bogey of travel advisory or something. Tourists are coming, tourism is flourishing.”
Officials in Srinagar say that travel advisories by some western countries remain a concern.