US wants India to resolve farm protest through dialogue

This was the Biden administration’s first response to a major Indian crisis. And although gently proposed, it marked a definitive departure from the hands-off “internal matter” approach favoured by the Trump administration to previous flashpoints.
People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest at Kandela village in Jind district of Haryana on Wednesday. (Reuters)
People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest at Kandela village in Jind district of Haryana on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Published on Feb 04, 2021 11:15 AM IST
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ByYashwant Raj I Edited by Vinod Janardhanan

The United States has said it encourages the resolution of ongoing farmer protests in India through “dialogue”.

This was the Biden administration’s first response to a major Indian crisis. And although gently proposed, it marked a definitive departure from the hands-off “internal matter” approach favoured by the Trump administration to previous flashpoints, the 2019 abrogation of Article 370 altering the constitutional status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast-tracked Indian citizenship for Hindus fleeing persecution in neighbouring South Asian countries.

“We recognise that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same,” a state department spokesperson said in response to a request for comment from US media on Wednesday, an abridged copy of which was provided to Hindustan Times.

The spokesperson added, “We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue.”

The brief three para comment — four paras in versions to US media — was likely worded carefully to prevent any impression the US was seeking to intervene in an internal disagreement, in the light of the strong pushback from the Modi government and its allies and supporters following comments from pop star Rihanna, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and US vice-president Kamala Harris’s niece Meena Harris.

Harris, to be sure, has kept at it. “If this is what it means to be pro-democracy and pro-human rights, then let’s go,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday, responding to a twitter post pitting her and Rihanna against the external affairs ministry spokesperson’s statement denouncing outside comment on an internal matter.

The state department seemed supportive, however, of the reforms introduced by the Modi government that the farmers have been protesting for weeks now. “In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.”

Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia expert at Carnegie, tweeted approvingly of the above comment, saying it “suggests support for the farm reforms”. He added, “Pretty balanced overall.”

Farmer are protesting new laws that allow the sale of agricultural produce in open market at market-determined rates. They fear they could lose the support thereby of a government procurement programme that guarantees them a basic return on their investment undiminished by market reverses.

In the longer version of the comment, the state department spokesperson added a fourth para, which was said to be in response to a specific question: “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”

This was a reference in all likelihood to the temporary suspension — 12 hours or so — of dozens of accounts on Monday by Twitter as demanded by the government on grounds that they were being used to incite violence.

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Monday, January 17, 2022