BJP only have themselves to blame for international focus on farmer protests


London – 10 March 2021

India-UK relations are on a knife edge following the UK Parliamentary debate on Tuesday about the Farmer Protests in India. What 17 out of 18 MPs and the UK Foreign Minister put on record regarding human rights violations against farmers, journalists and activists in India is now on official record. Unsurprisingly India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla yesterday summoned the British High Commissioner Alex Ellis and a diplomatic note or demarche was handed over to him.

Last Friday ahead of the debate on the farmers’ protest in the UK Parliament, Alex Ellis at his first media briefing since taking over last month did not help the situation as he described it as an “internal issue for India” that has to be resolved by the Indian government.

Focusing on the Indian farm laws being an internal issue for India was a major gaffe by Alex Ellis as he knew the debate in the UK Parliament would be focused on human rights violations and press freedoms where most MPs on all sides would be critical of India. He simply had to look at the public briefing that we produced that was also sent to all UK MPs and was used as a reference document by many MPs who spoke.

The UK Government and its representatives like Alex Ellis have largely been allergic for the last 74 years to raising human rights violations carried out by successive Indian government, whether Congress, BJP or other.

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the predictable reaction of the Indian authorities to any criticism and secondly past British atrocities in India like the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar for which the UK Government has never apologised. Britain therefore risks being criticised for its own atrocities in India and accused of double standards.

However, the current dilemma for Britain is 99% of the 115,000 who signed the Parliamentary e-petition or those who spoke on Tuesday were probably born after 1947. They want Britain to apologise for atrocities in the colonial past that will allow Britain to take a much tougher public stand on widespread human rights violations In India.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava has admitted they had lobbied UK MPs and sent relevant briefing to the UK Government, MPs and others. They have complained and told the media the debate was one sided, but they must accept they failed as they were only able to get one UK MP to support their indefensible position in the debate. The one MP who defended India unashamedly read from a briefing she was given by the Friends of India Society International and some have suggested she may be getting a large financial donation.

The Indian media have also airbrushed out other Conservative MPs like Paul Bristow, Adam Holloway and the UK Foreign Minister himself who joined Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Independent MPs to criticise the Indian authorities in terms of human rights violations against farmers, journalists and activists.

Paul Bristow the Conservative MP for Peterborough accused the Indian authorities of breaking accepted norms, crossing a line and sliding into authoritarian oppression. Others were even more critical of the BJP, Modi and Hindutva.

Although the debate was not specifically about the controversial farm laws, we provided Layla Moran MP, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs specific briefing on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources on Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). It is an important binding treaty and Article 9 of the treaty is about farmer rights.

We suggested the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) based in Rome and in turn Michael Kakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food should be consulted. We are strongly of the view that it can be reasonably argued that the three Indian farm laws are in breach of Article 9 that protects the rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material as all three laws refer to “seeds”. If it can be established the three laws violate this binding treaty there are grounds to lobby internationally that the Indian farm laws need to be repealed. This directly assists farmers protesting In India who are demanding the farm laws are repealed.

Layla Moran raised Article 9 of the treaty and Nigel Adams, the UK Foreign Minister had to admit that the UK Government had “not made an assessment of India’s agricultural bills in relation to Article 9” and would consult officials on this.

Although the above points were made in the debate the Indian government or media have avoided addressing the possible violation of Article 9 of a binding treaty. Officials and Ministers on both sides will be frantically looking at damage limitation in the context of Boris Johnson’s visit to India next month and the G7 summit in Cornwall on 11-13 June 2021.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:

“Modi and the BJP have only themselves to blame for the current situation they find themselves in. They rushed these controversial farm laws through Parliament without proper consultation or debate and have come up against the unmoveable force and opposition of a people’s movement led by the farmers.”

“Whilst they can come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories and blame foreign governments and politicians of interfering in a domestic matter for India it is about time they realise if they commit human rights violations, target activists and restrict press freedom it is legitimate they will face global criticism.”

ENDS Harnek Singh National Press Secretary Sikh Federation (UK)

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