New Delhi: In its first comments on the farmers’ agitation, the Biden administration on Thursday said it encourages differences to be resolved through dialogue and described peaceful protests a “hallmark” of a “thriving democracy”, prompting India to compare reactions to violence at the Red Fort with those seen after storming of the Capitol Hill.
The US also said it backed steps that can improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater investment, a remark seen by New Delhi as an acknowledgement of steps being taken by New Delhi towards agricultural reforms.
Hours after the comments by the State Department in Washington and the US embassy in Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it has taken note of the remarks and that it is important to see them in their entirety
“India and the United States are both vibrant democracies with shared values.The incidents of violence and vandalism at the historic Red Fort on 26 January have evoked similar sentiments and reactions in India as did the incidents on the Capitol Hill on January 6 and are being addressed as per our respective local laws,” MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at a media briefing.
He said the temporary measures with regard to internet access in certain parts of the National Capital Region(NCR) were therefore understandably undertaken to prevent further violence.
The MEA Spokesperson emphasised that it is important to see the comments by the US in the context in which they were made.
“We have taken note of comments of the US State Department. It is important to see such comments in the context in which they were made and in their entirety,” he said.
“As you can see, the US state department has acknowledged steps being taken by India towards agricultural reforms.” He also said any protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the Government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse.
Earlier, the State Department in Washington and the US embassy in Delhi made nearly identical statements in response to media questions on the protests.
“We recognise that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy, and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same. We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” a spokesperson of the US embassy said.
Multiple rounds of talks between the Government and the farmer unions have remained deadlocked. The protests at the Delhi borders for repeal of the three contentious agri laws that was enacted in September last began on November 28.
“In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment,” the state department official said, indicating that the new Biden administration is supportive of the Indian government’s move to reform the agricultural sector.
On the issue of restrictions on internet services at the protest sites, the US embassy spokesperson said: “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.” The responses by the new US administration came close on the heels of tweets by American pop singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg extending their support to the farmers that put the raging protests in global spotlight.
Besides Rihanna and Thunberg, several other prominent personalities including Meena Harris, an American lawyer and niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, actress Amanda Cerni, singers Jay Sean, Dr Zeus and former adult star Mia Khalifa too voiced their support to the protesting farmers.
In a strong response to the remarks made by the international celebrities, the MEA on Wednesday said the “temptation” of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments is “neither accurate nor responsible”.
At the media briefing, Srivastava also said that India has issued a mutual legal assistance request to the US for investigation in the matter of ‘Sikhs for Justice and Referendum 2020’.
“As per procedure, the request has been sent directly by the concerned authorities to the US Department of Justice (DoJ),” he said.
Several American lawmakers also came out in support of the farmers’ protests in India.
“I am concerned by the reported actions against peaceful demonstrators protesting new agricultural reform laws in India,” Congresswoman Haley Stevens said.
In a statement, she encouraged the Indian government and representatives of the protesting farmers to engage in productive discussions.
“I will continue to monitor this situation closely. It has been particularly valuable to engage with stakeholders across the district on this topic and I remain appreciative to all who have reached out to share their perspective,” Stevens said.
Another Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, expressed solidarity with all the farmers protesting for their livelihood across India.
“India must protect their basic democratic rights, allow for the free flow of information, reinstate internet access and release all the journalists detained for covering the protests,” she wrote on Twitter.
Referring to the farmers’ protests, Meena Harris had alleged that the world’s biggest democracy is under assault.
In a separate statement, Gurinder Singh Khalsa, chairman of the Sikhs Political Action Committee, said the “historic” farmers’ protest is turning out to be the “biggest-ever revolution” against the Indian government’s crony capitalism.
“This is the beginning of a movement for better accountability and transparency against crony capitalism. World was watching and now it has started reacting and mobilising in support of this historic revolution of Indian farmers. This will be bigger than India’s freedom Revolution,” Khalsa, who is based in Indiana, said.
Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said India’s new farm laws have the “potential to represent a significant step forward” for reforms in the agriculture sector.
“We believe the farm bills do have the potential to represent a significant step forward for agricultural reforms in India. The measures will enable farmers to directly contract with sellers, allow farmers to retain a greater share of the surplus by reducing the role of middlemen, enhance efficiency and support rural growth,” IMF Communications Director Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington last month.
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