India summons British envoy over criticism of farm laws

India’s foreign minister accused UK parliamentarians discussing farm protests of interfering in its internal affairs.

Farmers shout slogans as they take part in a three-hour 'chakka jam' or road blockade, as part of protests against farm laws on a highway on the outskirts of New Delhi, India [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India’s foreign ministry has summoned the United Kingdom’s high commissioner over what it called “unwarranted and tendentious discussion” of Indian agricultural reforms in the British parliament.

Three new agricultural laws introduced by India late last year have led to months of protests by farmers who say the legislation benefits large private buyers at their expense.

A discussion among UK legislators on Monday has caused anger in New Delhi, which accused the parliamentarians of interfering in India’s internal affairs.

The debate came in response to a petition initiated by Maidenhead Liberal Democrat leader Gurch Singh, who has Indian roots. The petition, titled Urge the Indian government to ensure safety of protesters’ press freedom, also received more than 100,000 signatures on parliament’s petition website.

At Tuesday’s meeting, India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told Alexander Ellis, who was appointed as envoy earlier this year, the debate “represented a gross interference in the politics of another democratic country”, according to a ministry statement.

“He advised that British MPs should refrain from practising vote bank politics by misrepresenting events, especially in relation to another fellow democracy,” it added, in an apparent reference to British legislators and voters of Indian descent.

There was no immediate comment by the British High Commission, as the country’s embassy in India is known.

The farmers’ protest movement is the biggest challenges faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since coming to power in 2014 and has gotten international support. Unrest has been particularly intense in the state of Punjab, which has large diasporas in the UK, the United States and Canada.

India summoned Canada’s envoy in December following critical comments by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Thousands of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of New Delhi since November last year protesting against three agricultural laws introduced by the government aimed at liberalising the agricultural sector. The farmers say the laws would jeopardise their livelihoods.

The protests received global prominence after well-known figures including pop star Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg voiced their support for the movement earlier this year.

In January, India’s Supreme Court ordered an indefinite stay on implementation of the legislation, but the farmers are insisting the laws be repealed. Several rounds of government negotiations with the protesting farmers also failed.

Source: News Agencies