NEW DELHI: India has served a demarche to China against a practice that has opened a new diplomatic front between the two countries. For almost a
year now, Indian nationals from Jammu and Kashmir are being issued Chinese visas on loose sheets of paper, and not stamped on their passports.
MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said India had "conveyed our well-justified concern" to the Chinese government in this regard. "It is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on the grounds of domicile or ethnicity," he added.
The implication of visas being stamped on loose sheets rather than the passport itself is a political signal that China does not recognize the nationality of the person concerned. In the case of J&K and Arunachal Pradesh, it's questioning that they are part of India. In many ways, said analysts, this is probably another way of Chinese pushing of the border issue.
The practice apparently came to light recently, after a couple of students who were denied travel permission approached the media. In fact, chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah highlighted the problem at the highest levels of the government, after which it was taken up by the home and foreign ministries.
The home ministry also informed all states and Union Territories to stop travel by people with stapled visas.
While the Chinese embassy here was quoted as saying the visa was a valid document, officials said this would seriously complicate matters between India and China. The two countries are only now emerging from a period of virulent reporting on Chinese border intrusions, which needed a prime ministerial intervention to calm things down. "This comes at a very bad time," said an official.
What is also clear is that India's immigration checks are well below par. Quite apart from the fact that it took several months for the visa mischief to be detected, Indian immigration officials should also be held responsible for letting in thousands of semi-skilled Chinese workers on business visas -- an issue that is currently a diplomatic thorn between India and China.
Chinese embassy officials were quoted as saying the documents were valid and it was the fault of the Indian immigration officials. "What we have issued is a correct and valid document. It is the problem of your immigration officers at Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi). This practice of issuing visas on separate paper has been there for years now," a Chinese embassy official said. Asked how many such visas they issue every year, the Chinese embassy official put the number at less than 100.
Defence minister A K Antony said, "Whether it is Jammu and Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh, all are integral parts of India. For us, every inch of India is one. There are channels of dealing with our neighbours whenever any issue arises and we always use them to raise our point of view."
Saifuddin Soz, J&K Congress president, was quoted as saying he had travelled to China three times, and every time, his visa was stamped on his passport. The directive to the embassy has clearly come from Beijing, which makes it a bigger diplomatic problem.
Many Kashmiri students travel to China for higher studies, particularly in medicine.