Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Thursday responded to the controversy about a debate in the British Parliament on the farmers’ protest, saying that elected representatives in democracies have the liberty to air their views, ANI reported.
The Indian government had criticised the discussion and summoned the British high commissioner on Tuesday.
Tharoor said he did not blame the Indian government for doing its job and remaining firm on its stand. “But we must recognise there is another point of view and people in democracies, elected representatives, are free to air their point of view on this,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.
The Congress MP added: “In a democracy, you are free to discuss whatever within your parliamentary rules you are prepared to discuss. Just as we in India can discuss...say Palestine issue, or if we so choose any other domestic issue of a foreign country. The British Parliament has the same right.”
Tharoor said that the debate in the UK Parliament was not surprising, adding that it “happens between democracies”, he added.
Several MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party and the Scottish National Party had expressed concern about the safety of farmers protesting against the agricultural laws on Delhi’s borders and the targeting of journalists covering the agitation. The House of Commons had assigned 90 minutes for a debate on the matters on Monday.
The Indian High Commission in London strongly opposed the debate and called it a “distinctly one-sided discussion”. “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 had said on Monday.
On Tuesday, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla summoned the British High Commissioner and expressed opposition to the discussion. 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.
The farmers’ protest
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi’s border points since November, 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.
The protest had been peaceful until violence broke out during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26. One person was killed and over 300 police officers injured as a section of protestors broke through barricades and poured into Delhi, clashing with the police who tried to push them back with tear gas and batons. A group of protestors also stormed the Red Fort.
The police clamped down on the protests after the violence. Heavy barricading was done at protest sites and internet services were suspended. Police complaints were filed against farmer leaders and journalists, and hundreds of protestors were arrested.
The crackdown on the farmers’ movement drew criticism from global personalities on social media. After this, the Indian government 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.