Opposition parties criticised the government on Thursday over what they described as a "guided tour" of foreign envoys to Jammu and Kashmir and said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime was adopting double standards by not allowing Indian politicians to visit the region.
The Congress launched a broadside against the government hours after the envoys of 15 countries, including United States Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the first by diplomats since August last year when the then state's special status was revoked and it was split into two Union territories.
"The government is adopting double standards by allowing foreign envoys to visit Jammu and Kashmir, but not Indian politicians," senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said at a press conference.
He, however, clarified that the Congress was not opposed to such visits, but Indian politicians should also be allowed to visit the region.
Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja said no "red carpet" welcome to the envoys could "absolve" the government of the "crimes they have committed" in Jammu and Kashmir as he hit out at the Centre over the visit of the ambassadors, while denying entry to the region to Indian MPs after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
"What the government has done is disrespecting India's Parliament, its political parties, its people and its democracy. While the government is saying that everything is normal there, the region in reality is under siege. We demand that if the situation is normal, then every political detainee should be released immediately.
"No red-carpet welcome to some envoys can absolve the government of the crimes they have committed in Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
The government, however, said the objective of taking the foreign envoys to Kashmir was to help them see the efforts to bring back normalcy in the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and rejected the criticism that the visit was akin to a guided tour.
The Congress accused the government of "adopting double standards" by organising "guided tours" to Jammu and Kashmir for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to visit the Union territories.
Besides the US, the group comprised the envoys of South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, Maldives, Norway, the Philippines, Morocco, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana and Togo, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
"The objective of the visit is for the envoys to see the efforts being made by the government to bring the situation to normal and see first-hand the impact of the series of steps taken by the local administration to normalise the situation in the recent weeks," he said.
Ramesh said this was the second such attempt by the government, after the one planned for EU parliamentarians on October 29 last year.
At that time, after facing criticism, the government had to say it was an informal visit and not an official one, the Congress leader said.
"We do not oppose this visit of foreign envoys. But when our own politicians are not allowed to go to Jammu and Kashmir to meet the people there, what is the purpose of taking foreign envoys there?," he asked.
Ramesh pointed out that three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers were still under house arrest and another former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, who is also the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had to seek the Supreme Court's permission to visit the Union territory.
When a parliamentary delegation, opposition leaders, a former Congress president and the Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary could not go to Jammu and Kashmir, then what was the purpose of taking foreign envoys there, the Congress leader asked.
"We demand the government to allow an unfettered access to Jammu and Kashmir to all politicians and not resort to guided tours for envoys," he said.
The Congress wanted meaningful political activity to start in Jammu and Kashmir immediately and "political tourism" for foreign envoys to stop, Ramesh said, adding, "It is important to stop such guided tours."
"In the last five months, no meaningful political activity has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir. Political tourism of taking envoys to Jammu and Kashmir should stop," he said.
The National Conference issued a statement, saying it was disappointed with the way the foreign envoys were brought to the Valley to endorse the Centre's claims about normalcy in the region.
"The party wishes to ask these envoys that if the situation is normal, why are scores of people, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, under detention for the last 160 days," it said.
The People's Democratic Party said the visit of the foreign envoys was an attempt by the government to "normalise its clampdown" in the Valley and dared the Centre to allow the dignitaries to meet the detained political leaders.
"Today that @PMOIndia lets a 2nd batch of envoys to "see" the situation in #Kashmir, it only seems like an attempt to normalize the Govt's own clampdown. The dare is on @PMOIndia will they ever let these Foreign Envoys meet political detainees who are jailed since 160 days now?," it said on its official Twitter handle.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh said Indian MPs should be allowed to visit Kashmir before foreign envoys.