New Delhi: Following the US State Department’s concern about Internet blackouts, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asserted equivalence between the violence on Republic Day at the Red Fort and the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, which it pointed out were being addressed as per “respective local laws”.
In Washington and Delhi, the State Department and US embassy had issued identical statements that peaceful protests and Internet access were hallmarks of a “thriving democracy”. The US statement had also mentioned that “in general”, it favoured steps that would reform agriculture and bring in private investment.
These comments by the US were in response to the MEA’s reaction to tweets by a slew of foreign celebrities, including pop singer Rihanna, environmental activist Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, niece of US vice-president Kamala Harris.
The MEA had asserted that the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible”. The MEA had also created two hashtags – ‘IndiaTogether’ and ‘IndiaAgainstPropaganda’ – which became the online campaign under which Indian cricketers and film stars tweeted that India’s sovereignty was under attack due to the tweets from foreign celebrities.
At the weekly briefing on Thursday, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that India had taken note of the US’s comments. “What we would say is that it is important to see such comments in the context that they are made and in their entirety,” he said.
Srivastav claimed that Washington’s comments had acknowledged the farm laws, which are being protested by the farmers’ unions, as reformist. “As you can see, US state department has acknowledged steps being taken by India towards agricultural reforms. Any protests must be seen in the context of India’s polity and the ongoing efforts of the government and concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse”.
He asserted that India and the US are both vibrant democracies with shared values. “The incidents of violence and vandalism at the historic Red Fort on January 26 have evoked similar sentiments and reactions in India as did the incidents on Capitol Hill of January 6 and are being addressed as per respective local laws”.
On the Internet blackouts in districts adjoining Delhi, the MEA spokesperson claimed that they were “undertaken to prevent further violence”.
On January 6, then US President Donald Trump addressed a “Save the America” rally, filled with supporters who believed his claim that the elections had been ‘stolen’. All the 60-odd lawsuits brought by Trump supporters against the election results have been dismissed.
Trump urged his supporters to walk down to Capitol Hill, where US vice-president Mike Pence was presiding over the formal count of electoral college results.
Thousands of rioters, some of them carrying confederate battle flags, overwhelmed the security forces and stormed through Capitol Hill into the chambers of Congress and Senate to stop the count which would certify Joe Biden as next President of United States. US lawmakers and vice-president were whisked to a safe space. Congressional aides had locked themselves in their rooms.
There were four fatalities recorded, including that of a police officer. So far, charges have been filed against 181 individuals, as per a database maintained by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Twenty days later in Delhi, protesting farmers took out a tractor parade in Delhi to coincide with Republic Day on January 26. However, clashes broke out in central Delhi in ITO and Red Fort between the police and the protestors, some of whom had deviated from the decided route.
Earlier several rounds of talks had been held between the farmers’ union leaders and government ministers. The government had proposed to suspend the farm laws for 18 months, but the farmers’ leaders insisted on total repeal.
At the Red Fort, some of the protestors put up Sikh religious flag on flagpoles. While the BJP and government supporters have claimed that the Indian flag was replaced, video and photos examined by fact-checking organisations have found that the tricolour was not removed.
Since the clashes, the epicentre of the farmers’ protests has moved towards Singhu border, where Delhi police have dug trenches, installed heavy barricades and metal spikes to stop the farmers from moving ahead.
The Indian government had also asked Twitter to withhold accounts of Individuals, groups and media organisations for posting on farmers protests regularly. After withholding them for hours, Twitter restored most of them. Subsequently, the Indian government issued notice to Twitter to reimpose the ban or face penal consequences.
Meanwhile, police in at least five states also filed sedition charges against Indian journalists for posting “unverified” news related to the farmers’ protest during the tractor rally on January 26. The UP police have filed an FIR against The Wire’s Siddharth Varadarajan for tweeting the story based on the claims of the family of the farmer who died during the tractor rally on January 26.