The non-visit of British Labour MP Deborah Abrahams to India has left some unanswered questions — about her visa of course, but also on what was reported, and what not. And a non-visit it was. Getting on a visit only so far as what is apparently labelled a deportee cell at the Indira Gandhi airport cannot be a visit she, or anyone in the Indian government might wish to remember.
Indian officials have pointed to two grounds for what seems on the face of it a rude refusal to an MP who intended a visit and turned up for it. One, that her visa had been cancelled on Feb 14, three days before she landed up. Two, that hers was a business visa, and meeting friends and relatives that she declared to be the purpose of the visit, is not business. We could hardly enter the debate whether family business can be covered by a business visa.
If her visa had been curtailed well before she boarded a flight to Delhi, it’s not clear why she then boarded the flight. Either that fact was not communicated to her. She certainly has spoken of no such communication. If the visa was curtailed and this was communicated, could this then have been a move to provoke just the kind of reaction it did? In the absence of clarity over communication of such a decision, we’re cornered into the guessing game. Debbie Abrahams did not respond to several requests from us for comment. No doubt media carry the responsibility of getting it right no matter whether someone speaks or not. But media can hardly be blamed then for reporting uncertainties that are not of their making.
As it turned out, the refusal worked out remarkably well in PR terms for the nearly visiting MP. What could she possibly have done over the course of two days in Delhi to draw as much attention to her mission as she got through attempting to come and then going nowhere from there.
Whatever the facts about the visa, and the communication of any decision over it, this could likely have been handled more diplomatically in India. The immigration officer obviously ran into an alert directing him to refuse entry. But how diplomatic was the last-minute curtailment to begin with.
Debbie Abrahams’s position on Kashmir and on Article 370 were known to the government when she was granted a visa in October last year, and she is known to head the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir. Since October, the position on the ground in Kashmir Valley has clearly become a good deal better, even if not ideal. This could have been a chance to present that improved picture, as it was presented to other European MPs, even if over her intended two days in India she wasn’t to be taken there. It’s a time to win critics over, not turn them away.
The Pakistanis inevitably pounced. The MP won’t be treated in Pakistan as she was in India, said foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi when Abrahams arrived in Pakistan a day later. But all that still does not answer the question why she turned up in Delhi at all with a cancelled visa. Her silence on this hasn’t helped.
As we should know, an admirer of the sari, a sari fetishist even, is none other than simply someone with sense and taste. And this eminently sensible body of humans was treated to a rare display of the sari at the London Fashion Week. And in the oddest way, this came despite the designers who turned up from India — not because of them.
The designers presented what the dull consider outlandish, within what is largely recognised as western wear. They designed and offered with the obvious dream of getting noticed in the West and to find a place in it. Here and there through their show a hint of a pallu or some fractional sari-like drape peeped out. But by way of sari, not one. The sari took to the catwalk later.
It came from the personal collection of staff and friends of the Indian High Commission in London. That collection managed remarkably to bring together saris in just about every style and from almost all regions of India. This show came with one sari a model — a sari is not something models can get in and out of at the lightning speed they otherwise manage.
That simple show became a parade of beauty and of grace unmatched by anything that came before. The stars were the unknown and unseen designers back in India, and the women who picked their weave. The six yards of magic from home cupboards stole the show. Long may the magic spell continue.