The Indian government has lodged an official protest over the United Kingdom Parliament's "one-sided debate" on the farmers' protests in India, even as members of the Indian diaspora chimed in on the controversial issue.
The High Commission of India in London issued a strongly-worded statement against the debate and the petition.
“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 statement read. “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.”
Dr Vijai Chauthaiwale, the head of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) foreign affairs cell in India, criticised the debate on social media and shared the MEA demarche.
"For some British parliamentarians, there is no COVID in UK, economy is booming, no unemployment, no discrimination...the only issue to be discussed is Indian farm laws. India's firm stand is commendable," he tweeted.
The ongoing protests have garnered both support and opposition globally, with many NRIs, Indian diaspora organisations, foreign celebrities and activists weighing in on the issue.
"Many have commented on UK's inability to deal with its internal crises like Brexit, increasing crime rates, and handling of the pandemic. Insisting on interfering in other sovereigns' issues, while incapable of handling their own internal challenges may be perceived by some as a colonial hangover. With the Oprah interview highlighting racism, it's a bad time for UK to invite the 'white supremacist' label," Anuraag Saxena, founder of the globe-spanning antiquities recovery organisation the India Pride Project, told Connected to India.
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.
Other celebrities of Indian descent have voiced their support for the farmers, including Indian-Canadians such as politician Jagmeet Singh, poet Rupi Kaur and comedian Lilly Singh; Indian-British singer Jay Sean and Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj.
The deadlock between the farmers and the Indian government shows no sign of ending despite multiple rounds of talks and a suspension of the controversial laws.
India yesterday summoned British envoy Alex Ellis to protest against what it said was an “unwarranted and tendentious” debate in the UK Parliament.
Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla reportedly served a demarche or formal diplomatic representation that conveyed India’s “strong opposition to the unwarranted and tendentious discussion on agricultural reforms in India in the British Parliament”, according to a statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
The debate, held in response to a public petition that garnered more than 115,000 signatures, witnessed Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democratic and Scottish National Party lawmakers calling on the Boris Johnson government to raise their concerns about the handling of the protest and media freedoms with the Indian government.
British-Indian Opposition Labour MPs Virendra Sharma, Seema Malhotra and Tan Dhesi were also involved in the debate, held in hybrid form due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
“Both sides need to step back and recognise the need to come to an agreement. I hope the government will commit to helping that cause and offer British skills in a negotiation and compromise to help both sides to bring this issue to a close,” Sharma, the MP for Ealing Southall, said.
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers was the only one of about 20 lawmakers who joined the debate to defend the Indian government’s actions.
"I hear the concerns expressed about the response to the protests, but when thousands and thousands of people are involved in demonstrations and encampments lasting months and months, no policing response can altogether avoid controversial episodes. Rather than denigrating India with unjustified criticism, we should celebrate it as the democratic success story that it is," she said.
“This is a time of great ambition for the UK’s relationship with India. Both governments are working to advance shared priorities across trade and investment, health, sustainability and climate change and defence and security,” said Nigel Adams, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) minister, reiterating that agricultural reforms are a domestic matter for India.