Srinagar: A group of foreign journalists arrived in Srinagar Friday for a three-day tour on the eve of the last phase of the maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections, the first direct polls to be held in the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370 last August.
The move marks a major departure from Modi government’s earlier position to restrict foreign correspondents from travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.
Official sources in the J&K administration said the Centre had invited a number of foreign journalists to Srinagar for a three-day tour during which officials of the local administration and central government are expected to interact with them on the ongoing local body elections, the last phase of which will take place on 19 December.
The journalists, other government sources said, were invited by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is also at the centre of organising the trip. Correspondents from The New York Times, Financial Times and the Netherlands-based newspaper NRC Handelsblad are among the group of reporters visiting Kashmir, officials added.
According to government sources, the journalists who accepted the invite, arrived in Srinagar Friday and will be visiting other areas in Kashmir over the next two days. The correspondents will be “taking a view” on the polls, which have been held without a major “law and order situation” and are being seen as a “major success” by both local and central authorities.
The officials are expecting to discuss modalities of the election, turnout, importance and challenges in conducting the polls with the visiting correspondents.
Government officials said the group comprises of foreign journalists representing the world’s leading news outlets, including those in the United States and Netherlands.
Besides the DDC polls, government officials meeting the correspondents are expected to talk about the “improved law and order situation” in the Union Territory.
“The entire programme is being overlooked by the central government and J&K administration was asked to provide logistical support earlier this week,” said a senior government official requesting anonymity. The official further said “elaborate details of the visit would not be shared due to security reasons”.
Govt behind logistical arrangements
While the J&K government and the Centre have made logistical arrangements for the tour such as providing security to the foreign scribes, a private consultant associated with the central government is leading the group of journalists, individuals privy to the development said.
The presence of the correspondents is a marked change in the government’s attitude towards foreign journalists.
In 2018, the Ministry of External Affairs had made it mandatory for all foreign correspondents stationed in India to apply in writing for permission to travel anywhere in J&K. Restrictions on foreign journalists wishing to travel to J&K since August last year were further intensified.
In an interview to French publication Le Monde last year, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had said India did not want the presence of foreign journalists to “provoke problems from people who would take advantage of it to show that there is unrest”. The minister had further said that the journalists will be allowed to go to J&K as soon as it is “safe”.