"Need To Set Record Straight": India Slams UK Lawmakers' Farm Row Debate

On Monday, the British parliament set aside 90 minutes to debate the "safety of farmers" and "press freedom" in India.

The debate was a response to a petition initiated by Maidenhead Liberal Democrat leader,

Highlights

  • "False assertions without substantiation made": Indian High Commission
  • British parliament set aside 90 minutes to debate the "safety of farmers"
  • "Press freedom in India" also discussed
London/ New Delhi:

A debate held in British Parliament on Monday on "safety of farmers" and "press freedom" in India has evoked 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," the High Commission said in a statement.

"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," it further read.

On Monday, the British parliament set aside 90 minutes to debate the "safety of farmers" and "press freedom" in India. Concerns were raised by several MPs of the Labour party, Liberal democrats and the Scottish National Party over Indian government's reaction to the protests. 

The UK government responded saying: "The concerns will be raised with India when both Prime Ministers meet in person."

The debate was a response to a petition initiated by Maidenhead Liberal Democrat leader Gurch Singh of Indian origin. The petition received signatures from over a lakh UK residents within weeks. 

Scottish National Party's Martin Day opened the debate with the remarks: "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."

In a response to several opposition MPs raising concerns over safety of farmers and journalists in India, UK Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams said Britain's "close ties with India doesn't hinder the nation from raising concerns". 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, "The unprecedented protests should make one think about why so many are turning up. The arrests of journalists is a matter of serious concern."

Conservative MP Theresa Villiers, however, shared support for the Indian government's response. "We receive complaints against policemen here in the UK too when there are mass protests. That doesn't mean the UK is against democracy." she said.

In its statement, the Indian High Commission stressed: "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."

UK Prime minister Boris Johnson was meant to be in India in January to attend the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi.  This trip had to be postponed amid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the UK, particularly those of the fast-spreading new UK variant.

This trip is seen as a strong indication of the United Kingdom hoping to further strengthen its ties with India after Brexit. A proposed trade deal is to be discussed by the UK PM among other matters.

Farmers' protests against three new agricultural laws began near Delhi's borders in November. Last month, the government had given an unprecedented reaction after pop star Rihanna, climate activist Greta Thunberg and US and UK lawmakers threw weight behind the demonstrations. 

"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," the foreign ministry said in the statement.