India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday summoned the British High Commissioner, and expressed opposition to the “unwarranted and tendentious” discussion in the British Parliament related to the Indian farmers protest.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said that Shringla made it clear that the debate held by the British MPs was a “gross interference” in the politics of another country. “He advised that British MPs should refrain from practising vote bank politics by misrepresenting events, especially in relation to another fellow democracy,” the statement added.
Several MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party and the Scottish National Party had on Monday expressed concern about the safety of farmers protesting against the agricultural laws on Delhi’s borders and the targeting of journalists covering the agitation.
On Monday, the Indian High Commission in London had also sharply criticised the debate. “We deeply regret that rather than a balanced debate, false assertions without substantiation or facts were made, casting aspersions on the largest functioning democracy in the world and its institutions,” the High Commission said.
The Indian mission also dismissed concerns about press freedom in the country. “Foreign media, including the British media, are present in India and have witnessed the events under discussion first-hand,’ it said. “The question of lack of freedom of the media in India does not arise”.
The debate in the UK Parliament took place after a petition was started by Liberal Democrat Councillor Gurch Singh. It was signed by more than 1 lakh people.
Scottish National Party MP Martin Day said the UK government will not debate on the agricultural reforms as they were India’s internal matter but said the discussion is for the safety of the protestors. UK minister Nigel Adams, who was deputed by the government to respond to the debate, said the country’s close relationship with India did not hinder it from discussing difficult matters. However, he repeated the British government’s stand that the farm laws were India’s domestic matter.
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi’s border points for over 100 days, seeking the withdrawal of the new agricultural laws passed in September. Farmers’ unions have also been organising “mahapanchayats” or farmers’ conclaves to mobilise support for the protest.
International support for Indian farmers
Earlier in February, pop icon Rihanna tweeted in support of Indian farmers who have been protesting against three new agricultural laws. Rihanna’s tweet drew global attention to the protests as prominent Western personalities then echoed her support for the farmers’ movement.
Following international condemnation, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement calling the tweets a “sensationalist” attempt by “vested groups” to intervene in India’s internal matters.
Shortly after, a host of Indian actors, celebrities and sports stars, many of whom have long been silent on the farmer protests, began tweeting in one voice. Among them were cricketing stars Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Ravi Shastri. They used hashtags #IndiaAgainstPropaganda and #IndiaTogether – coined by the foreign ministry – and wrote identical messages in support of the new agricultural laws.
A study showed that Indian celebrities had engaged in collusive tweeting of the two hashtags framed by the external affairs ministry. Many of their tweets had similar wording and phrases.