File image: A general view of the House of Commons in London, Britain on March 3, 2021. (Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters)
India has reacted strongly to the British Parliament debating the “safety of farmers” and “press freedom” in India on March 8, amid the ongoing farmers’ protest against the three new contentious farm reform laws.
In a statement, quoted by NDTV, the Indian High Commission in London said: “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".
The High Commission said that foreign media, including news organisations from the United Kingdom, are present in India and have witnessed the events around the ongoing farmers’ protest first-hand. Thus, the High Commission said that the question of lack of freedom for the media in India does not arise.
The statement came after the British parliament set aside 90 minutes to debate the "safety of farmers" and "press freedom" in India. Several Members of Parliament in the UK, including those from the opposition Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) – that leads the Scottish Parliament – raised concerns over the Indian government's reaction to the agitation that has now gone on for more than 100 days.
The UK government said that the concerns will be raised with India when Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets PM Narendra Modi in person. Johnson is expected to visit India later this year.
The debate was initiated as a response to a petition by Maidenhead Liberal Democrat leader Gurch Singh, who is of Indian origin. The petition, calling for such a discussion, received signatures from over one lakh UK residents within weeks. This mandated the British Parliament to hold the debate.
According to the NDTV report, the Indian High Commission further said that 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.”
Thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, have been staging a sit-in protest along Delhi’s borders since November 2020. The farmers are demanding a complete rollback of the new farm reform laws and a guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system being retained.
Multiple rounds of talks between the Centre and the farmers’ union leaders have ended in a stalemate. Protesting farmers fear that the new laws will dismantle the MSP system and corporatise farming.
The Centre has claimed that the agricultural reform laws will benefit farmers and help increase their income.