New Delhi: The High Commission of India in London has condemned “false assertions” in a “distinctly one-sided discussion” among a group of British parliamentarians on Monday on the issue of peaceful protests and press freedoms in India, amidst the ongoing farmers’ stir against three new laws on agricultural reforms.
The Indian mission pointed out that foreign media, including British media, had been present and witnessed the events surrounding the farmers’ protests in India first-hand and therefore any “question of lack of freedom of the media in India does not arise”.
“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,” a statement issued by the high commission said, following the debate which stemmed from an e-petition that attracted over 100,000 signatures on the parliamentary website.
The mission said it 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,” the statement said.
It said that a false narrative over farmers’ protest was sought to be developed even though the High Commission of India has been, over a period of time, taking care to inform all concerned about the issues raised in the petition.
The statement followed a group of around dozen cross-party British MPs debating issues around the use of force against protesters opposed to agricultural reforms in India and journalists being targeted while covering the protests taking place at several border points of Delhi for over 100 days.
The UK government said on Monday that the upcoming visit of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be utilised to raise “serious and specific concerns” as required.
“While this is an exciting time for the UK-India partnership, it does not hinder our raising difficult issues,” said UK foreign office’s minister of Asia Nigel Adams.
Regarding the forthcoming visit of Johnson to India, Adams stated, “This will be an opportunity to discuss a range of bilateral issues with India. Where we have serious and specific concerns, we will raise them directly with the Indian Government, as would be expected of a friend and neighbour. Candid discussions are an important part of our mature and wide-ranging relationship with the Indian Government.”
In his response to the debate, Adams said that UK diplomats have been monitoring the farmers’ protests since September. He stated that the Indian Supreme Court had set up a committee, whose final report is expected this month. “We are also aware that the Indian Government have met farmers’ unions on several occasions and that those talks remain inconclusive, but are ongoing,” he added.
The minister stated that it was understandable the events “have caused alarm and uncertainty for many British people who have family ties to farming communities in India”.
“The Government’s written response to the petition aimed to address those concerns while making clear that agricultural policy is a domestic matter for the Indian Government, as the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), confirmed. The UK Government firmly believe, however, that freedom of speech, internet freedom, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and many others, and the right to peaceful protest, are vital to any democracy.”
The UK minister stated that the if a protest “protest crosses the line into illegality, security forces in a democracy have the right to enforce law and order in a proportionate way”.
“We encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws and the way in which they are enforced comply with international human rights standards. In that spirit, we look to the Indian Government to uphold the freedoms and rights guaranteed to the Indian people by the constitution and by the international instruments to which India is party,” he noted.
The UK government, stated Adams, has discussed the farmers protests at several fora including during foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s visit in December 2020.
He asserted that this march, UK foreign office officials met with the Indian high commissioner and discussed “the UK parliamentary interest in the freedom of civil society groups, for example, to operate in India”.
Adams stated that his colleague, minister of state in charge of South Asia, Tariq Ahmad regularly spoke to his counterparts in the external affairs ministry. “Human rights issues are an essential part of these conversations.”
On the issue of Amnesty International being forced to wind up operations in India due to multiple cases, Adams said that this had been raised with Indian side in November and December. “We have requested that Amnesty’s accounts be unfrozen while the investigation is ongoing, and in our contacts with the Government of India we have noted the important role in a democracy of organisations such as Amnesty.”
(With PTI inputs)