New Delhi: Even as the Indian government claimed that Debbie Abrahams’s visa was revoked before her travelling to India and that she was informed in advance, the British MP has asserted that she had not seen or received any such intimation.
Abrahams, who heads the British All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Kashmir, was deported from India after she arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Monday morning. In her initial statement, the Labour MP had said that on arrival, she was rudely informed by immigration officials that her visa had been revoked.
Till now, the Indian government has not officially released a statement. However, information has been released over the past two days, attributed to government sources. On the first day, there was only a terse response that Abrahams was denied entry as she didn’t have a valid visa to visit India.
Next day, there was a six-point explanation issued by government sources. It had stated that while Abrahams had been given a business e-visa last October, it was revoked on February 14. The reason given was that the visa cancellation was “on account of her indulging in activities which went against India’s national interest”.
In a short interview with The Wire from the Dubai airport while waiting for her flight to Islamabad, Abrahams said that she had not received any intimation from the Indian government that her visa had been revoked before she left the UK. “I had not got any information on my official parliamentary address,” she asserted. Also, she has not seen any such details if it was sent to her personal address, “as I have been offline since Thursday (February 14)”.
The home ministry had apparently shared a copy of the cancellation letter sent to Abrahams with some sections of the media, but it has not been made public.
Abrahams pointed out that the visa was obtained in her official capacity. “I had got it as part of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s delegation to India… I did not visit finally, but the visa was there,” said the Labour MP from Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.
On the decision of the Indian government to revoke her visa just before arriving in the country, she called the timing ‘perplexing’, coming more than four months after she got the visa and just a few days before her travels. When asked why the Indian government, knowing her plans, cancelled her visa just a few days ahead of her arrival as claimed, she said, “I have no idea”.
Abrahams also noted that none of the airline staff who had asked to her see her visa documents had expressed any concern.
Her initial written statement had given the flavour of her treatment in Delhi, where she was marched to a “Deportee cell”. “I felt criminalised,” said Abrahams.
She said that while one official had been very rude and shouted at her, which “set the tone” for the rest of her stay in the airport. The other officials were more courteous, but she had to be escorted all the time in the airport by a security team.
After arrival at around 8:45 am in the morning, she finally left Delhi at around four in the afternoon.
“My passport, which is my property, was handed over to the stewardess, who kept it in an envelope. When we arrived in Dubai, she did not give it to me, but to the security officials there,” said Abrahams.
Even in Dubai, she was detained and questioned by security officials as to why she had been deported from India. “They asked me details about my social media accounts,” said Abrahams. The British parliamentarian finally got her passport back about three-and-a-half hours after she had reached Dubai on Monday night.
One of the points made by the Indian government was that her e-business visa was anyway not suitable for family and friends, as the UK politician had said in her media statement. A separate visa was required for that purpose.
However, Abrahams contended that the issue about the invalidity of her e-visa due to the nature of her trip was never raised by Indian officials. “At no time (in Delhi airport) was I asked about the purpose of my visit to India,” she said.
On the Indian government’s contention that Abraham’s visa was cancelled as she was working against India’s national interests, she replied, “Let’s be clear. I am not anti-India. I have a sister-in-law who is Indian, whose cousin I was planning to visit in Delhi. My office manager is Indian… This is absolute nonsense”.
Since her election as an MP in 2011, Abrahams has raised issues related to Kashmir in parliament. While she had been a member of the APPG on Kashmir for years, she became the head in 2018.
“I have been more vocal since the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A (of the Indian constitution) as I think it is a serious issue,” she stated. Abrahams claimed that it was akin to the UK deciding to “abolish the Scottish government and go back to 1992”.
The UK MP also stated that she was also representing her constituents, many of whom had reached out after they had been unable to contact their relatives in Jammu and Kashmir.
As chair of the APPG on Kashmir, Abrahams said that she had written to both the Indian and Pakistan high commissioners to facilitate a visit to Kashmir administered by their respective governments.
While there was no response from the Indian mission, the Pakistan high commission agreed to the visit.
“I will continue to stand for the rights of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control,” she stated.
Abrahams said a delegation would decide who it would “want to meet in Kashmir” and would raise the issue of rights and protection of minority groups in Pakistan.
The opposition MP also felt that the UK government “should have taken a stronger position on Article 370”.
“I have huge regard for Lord [Tariq] Ahmad [foreign minister of state commonwealth, United Nations and South Asia], but I recognise the sensitivities that he is in. I don’t have to get a trade deal,” added Abrahams.