A debate in British Parliament on “safety of farmers” and “press freedom” in India on Monday has invoked a sharp response from the Indian High Commission in London.
“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,” said a statement by the High Commission.
“Foreign media, including the British media, are present in India and have witnessed the events under discussion first-hand. The question of lack of freedom of the media in India does not arise,” the statement further stated.
The 90 minutes long debate began when many MPs from Labour Party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats raised their concerns over the reactions of Indian government over the farmers’ protests.
However, the UK government in its response said, “The concerns will be raised with India when both Prime Ministers meet in person.”
The debate was an outcome to a petition filed by Maidenhead Liberal Democrat leader Gurch Singh from Indian origin which had got signatures from more than a lakh UK residents in just a couple of weeks.
The debate was started by the Scottish National Party’s Martin Day, who said, “The UK government has already stated that the farm reforms are a matter for the Indian government’s decision. So we are not debating the reforms now. We are debating for the safety of the protesters. Water canons and tear gas and repeated clashes between police and farmers and interruption in internet connectivity have been matters of concern. Several farmers have reportedly committed suicide.”
Responding to the concerns raised over the safety of both the journalists and farmers in India by many MPs from opposition, Nigel Adams, the UK Minister of State for Asia said, ” Britain’s close ties with India doesn’t hinder the nation from raising concerns”.
“The unprecedented protests should make one think about why so many are turning up. The arrests of journalists is a matter of serious concern,” said a Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
However, right-winger MP Theresa Villiers, supported the reaction of Indian government towards the farmers’ protest. “We receive complaints against policemen here in the UK too when there are mass protests. That doesn’t mean the UK is against democracy.” said Villiers.
The Indian High Commission in its assertion pushed at, “The High Commission of India would normally refrain from commenting on an internal discussion involving a small group of Honourable Parliamentarians in a limited quorum. However, when aspersions are cast on India by anyone, irrespective of their claims of friendship and love for India or domestic political compulsions, there is a need to set the record straight.”
A visit of UK Prime minister Boris Johnson to India was scheduled on the Republic Day, which had to be delayed due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in UK, mainly those of UK variants.
The UK is expecting the visit to be crucial for strengthening its relations with India post Brexit. A proposed deal is also likely to be discussed by the UK Prime Minister with various other matters.
The Indian government had given an unexpected reaction after the pop star Rihanna, international climate activists Greta Thunberg and lawmakers from US and UK spoke up for the famers protesting on Delhi border since November last year for the repealing of the three farm laws.
“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,” read a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.