Protesters at Ghazipur, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)
Protesters at Ghazipur, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)

Get your facts right: India responds to barbs from celebrities on farm protest

A statement by the external affairs ministry said that criticism of the government’s handling of the agitation by foreign individuals was “neither accurate no responsible”
UPDATED ON FEB 03, 2021 03:24 PM IST

India on Wednesday said criticism of the government’s handling of the farmers’ protests against three farm laws by foreign individuals was “neither accurate nor responsible” in a response to comments by musician Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

A statement issued by the external affairs ministry contended “vested interest groups” are trying to enforce their agenda on the protests to derail them and said these groups have tried to mobilise global support against India. The statement also referred to “sensationalist social media hashtags and comments” by “celebrities and others” but didn’t name anyone.

It is rare for the external affairs ministry to respond to tweets by foreign celebrities criticising events within the country though it has, in recent weeks, pushed back against comments by leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and lawmakers in other countries supporting the farmers’ protest.

“We would like to emphasise that these protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse,” the statement said.

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“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken. The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” it said.

On Wednesday, 18-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who was the youngest person of the year named by Time magazine, tweeted: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.” The tweet was both supported and criticised by sections within the country.

A day earlier, singer Rihanna triggered a storm by tweeting “Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest,” along with a link to the same CNN article about the farmers’ protest that was included in Thunberg’s tweet. Author Meena Harris, niece of US vice-president Kamala Harris, also tweeted about the farmers’ protest. “We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” she wrote.

Unusually, the external affairs ministry’s statement included two hashtags - #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda. This is the first time hashtags were included in a statement.

The farmers’ protest began on November 26, and after several rounds of negotiations with the government failed to end the impasse over three central farm laws, farmers’ unions backing the agitation planned to intensify their protest.

They organised a tractor rally to New Delhi on Republic Day that turned violent. Many protesters and policemen were injured. Authorities responded by shutting down the internet, digging ditches, driving nails into roads and topping barricades with razor wire to prevent farmers from entering the capital again.

Farmers have been protesting against the three laws – the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 – and the external affairs ministry said these “reformist legislation” were passed by Parliament after a “full debate and discussion”.

“These reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming,” it said, explaining the government’s position on the laws.

It said “a very small section of farmers in parts of India” had reservations about the reforms and the government initiated a series of talks with their representatives. Union ministers were part of the negotiations in 11 rounds of talks. “The government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India,” it said.

“Yet, it is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them. This was egregiously witnessed on January 26, India’s Republic Day. A cherished national commemoration, the anniversary of the inauguration of the Constitution of India, was besmirched, and violence and vandalism took place in the Indian capital,” the statement said.

The ministry said, “Some of these vested interest groups have also tried to mobilise international support against India”. Instigated by such “fringe elements”, Mahatma Gandhi statues were desecrated in parts of the world, and this is “extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere”.

It added that Indian police had handled these protests with “utmost restraint”, and that “hundreds of men and women serving in the police have been physically attacked, and in some cases stabbed and seriously wounded”.

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