India on Wednesday said criticism by foreign celebrities and attempts to “mobilise international support against India” on the government’s handling of the farmers’ protests without ascertaining facts were “neither accurate nor responsible” after comments by musician Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg, lawmakers in the US and UK, and several actors, activists and influencers sparked global clamour over the issue.
A statement from the external affairs ministry contended that “vested interest groups” were trying to enforce their agenda on the protests to derail them, and have tried to mobilise global support against India. In this context, the statement referred to “sensationalist social media hashtags and comments” by “celebrities and others” but didn’t name anyone.
It is rare for the external affairs ministry to respond to tweets by foreign celebrities critical of events within the country, though it has, in recent weeks, pushed back against comments by leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and lawmakers in the UK and other countries supporting the farmers’ protest.
The ministry’s statement, for the first time, included two hashtags – #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
As protests against three contentious farm laws have snowballed, they have attracted attention around the world, including among celebrities and lawmakers. Though some celebrities who aren’t well known in India have made social media posts on the issue over the past few days, singer Rihanna was the most high-profile personality to take up the issue on Twitter on Tuesday.
Rihanna, who has 101 million followers on Twitter and is among the highest-selling recording artistes in history, triggered a storm on Tuesday by tweeting “why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”, along with a link to a CNN article about the farmers’ protest that was also part of a subsequent tweet on Wednesday by 18-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg tweeted: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.” The tweet was both supported and criticised by sections within India. Author Meena Harris, the niece of US vice president Kamala Harris, too, joined those criticising the government’s handling of the protests on Wednesday, drawing a link between the demonstrations in India and the assault on the US Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
“It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago, and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault. This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” Harris tweeted.
India’s foreign ministry said in response to these statements that it “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”.
“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,” it added.
Union home minister Amit Shah wrote on Twitter: “No propaganda can deter India’s unity! No propaganda can stop India to attain new heights! Propaganda cannot decide India’s fate only ‘Progress’ can. India stands united and together to achieve progress.”
External affairs minister S Jaishankar tweeted: “Motivated campaigns targeting India will never succeed. We have the self confidence today to hold our own. This India will push back.”
James Costa, a Democratic congressman who serves on the influential US house foreign affairs committee, too supported the farmers’ right to protest. “The unfolding events in India are troubling. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am closely monitoring the situation. The right to peaceful protest must always be respected. #FarmersProtest,” he tweeted.
Since last month, US actor John Cusack, a group of 36 lawmakers in the UK and a spokesperson for UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres have backed the farmers’ protest and taken up the matter on social media and other forums.
Indian celebrities Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Karan Johar and Suniel Shetty said citizens should focus on the government’s efforts to resolve the ongoing farmer crisis rather than paying attention to “half truths” and those creating differences. While Kumar said that efforts by the government to solve the issue were “evident”, Devgn urged people to be wary of “false propaganda against India or Indian policies”. Johar and Shetty, too, supported the Indian government’s statement.
Watch: Akshay Kumar vs Rihanna as Bollywood backs government on farm row
Former Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar too tweeted: “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation.”
India cricket captain Virat Kohli tweeted: “Let us all stay united in this hour of disagreements. Farmers are an integral part of our country and I’m sure an amicable solution will be found between all parties to bring about peace and move forward together.” The farmers’ protest began on November 26, and after several rounds of negotiations with the government failed to end the impasse over the three farm laws, farmer unions backing the agitation decided to intensify their stir.
They organised a tractor rally in the national capital on Republic Day that descended into violence and chaos. Authorities responded by shutting down the internet at border points, digging ditches, driving spikes into roads and topping barricades with razor wire to prevent farmers from entering Delhi again.
The farmers have been protesting against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, and the external affairs ministry said these “reformist legislation” were passed by Parliament after a “full debate and discussion”. “These reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming,” it said, explaining the government’s position on the laws.
It said “a very small section of farmers in parts of India” had reservations about the reforms and the government initiated a series of talks with their representatives. Union ministers were part of the negotiations in 11 rounds of talks. “The government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India,” it said.
“Yet, it is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them. This was egregiously witnessed on January 26, India’s Republic Day. 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,” the statement said.
The ministry said “some of these vested interest groups have also tried to mobilise international support against India”. Instigated by such “fringe elements”, Mahatma Gandhi statues were desecrated in parts of the world, and this is “extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere”.
The BJP hit out at “propaganda and fake narratives” and also attacked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, alleging that he conspires with anti-India elements during his trips abroad. Gandhi, meanwhile, said India’s reputation has taken a “massive hit” and its biggest strength, its soft power, has been “shattered” by the BJP and the RSS.