New Delhi: Tagged with a title of ‘India against Propaganda’, India’s Ministry of External Affairs pushed back against international celebrities like singer Rihanna and environmentalist Greta Thunberg expressing concern about measures taken by the government against protests by Indian farmers.
“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,” said the MEA press statement on Wednesday.
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) February 3, 2021
The 32-year-old Rihanna posted a CNN news article headline, “India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police” on her Twitter account, which has around 100 million followers. She added to that tweet, “[W]hy aren’t we talking about this? #FarmersProtest”.
The article published by CNN was not about the demands made by the farmers, but rather about the internet blackout which has been imposed in areas that lie on Delhi’s borders, where the protesting farmers are camping.
Meanwhile, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar tweeted that motivated campaigns targeting India will never succeed.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) February 3, 2021
The Delhi Police have also installed multi-layer barricades and fences to stop the movement of vehicles. These security measures were taken after clashes were reported during the Republic Day tractor parade.
Following Rihanna’s tweet, other celebrities and influential persons – including Thurnberg – also spoke up on the issue.
US vice president Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris said everyone should be “outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters”. She added that “as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault”.
Statement lists benefits of laws
The opening paragraph of the MEA statement listed the claimed benefits of the farm laws and asserted that it was passed by the Indian parliament after “a full debate and discussion”.
Stating that a “very small section of farmers” have reservations, the MEA stated that the Indian government initiated a series of talks with representatives “respecting the sentiments of the protestors”.
“Union Ministers have been part of the negotiations, and eleven rounds of talks have already been held. The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India.”
The events of January 26, India’s Republic Day, was a demonstration of “vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them,” the statement claimed. “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,” it added.
These “vested interest groups”, the MEA statement noted, have also tried to mobilise “international support against India”. “Instigated by such fringe elements, Mahatma Gandhi statues have been desecrated in parts of the world. This is extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere,” it said.
Though the statement attempted to connect the vandalism of Gandhi statue in Davis, California with the farmers’ protests, the police are still investigating the incident.
Claiming that the Delhi police handled these protests “with utmost restraint”, the MEA added that “hundreds of men and women serving in the police have been physically attacked, and in some cases stabbed and seriously wounded”.
“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,” stated the MEA statement.
There was, however, no mention in the MEA press note about the measures taken by the Indian government with regard to internet blackouts or the semi-permanent heavy barricades, which were the triggers for the celebrities speaking up.
The communique from the Indian foreign office ended with two hashtags – “IndiaTogether” and “IndiaAgainstPropaganda”.
This copy was updated with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s reaction against international support on farmers’ protest.