British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday said he discussed the farmers’ protests against the three new agricultural laws with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, The Indian Express reported. Raab, who is on a three-day visit to India, said the agricultural reforms were the country’s internal matter, but the protests were part of British politics too.
Raab met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said the United Kingdom is committed to building a closer relationship with India. Before his visit, 36 British MPs had urged the foreign secretary to raise their concerns about the farmers’ protest with the Indian government. They said the agriculture laws were a “death warrant” and pointed towards the “deteriorating” situation.
“I discussed the situation with foreign minister Jaishankar and obviously, we respect the fact that the reforms going through your system here are domestic reforms,” Raab told reporters at an interaction, while responding to a question on whether the protests had come up during the bilateral talks in New Delhi. “Of course, they have elicited the protests that you refer to, and your politics – in some sense – because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, is our politics. But I think, India, as well as having a market-driven economy also has a vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate, and we watch that with interest and we respect it.”
On December 9, MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi had asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to comment on the farmers’ protest. But Johson appeared to confuse the agitation against the agricultural laws in India with the conflict between New Delhi and Pakistan. Later, 10 Downing Street claimed that he had “misheard” the question and hence seemed to imply that it was a diplomatic matter.
The negotiations between farmers’ groups and the Centre has not progressed since the last meeting, scheduled to be held on December 9, was cancelled. Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi for the last 20 days. Both the government and farmer leaders have reiterated their positions and dialed up the rhetoric, but have not made no concrete efforts to resume discussions to resolve the deadlock.
The farmers fear the agricultural reforms will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, will lead to the deregulation of crop-pricing, deny them fair remuneration for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporations.
The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.