Unhindered access to information, including the Internet, and peaceful protests are a hallmark of a thriving democracy, the US said on Wednesday in comments on the farmer protests that also backed “steps that can improve the efficiency of India’s markets”.
The US State Department made the remarks to questions on the farmer protests, the three central laws that have provoked the agitation and the government’s move to block Internet near the protest sites.
“We recognize 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,” said a US Embassy spokesperson, quoting from the State Department briefing.
“In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment,” the spokesperson added, in remarks seen to indicate support for the farm laws pitched by the government as long overdue reforms in the agriculture sector.
Thousands of farmers protesting on highways outside Delhi have argued against the view and demand the repeal of the laws, saying they will deprive them of the guaranteed minimum prices for their crop and also make it easier for big corporations to exploit them.
The government yesterday said in a statement that parliament after debate and discussion passed “reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector” and the reforms “give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers.” The laws also paved the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming, the foreign ministry stressed, adding that “a very small section of farmers in parts of India have some reservations about these reforms”.
On the internet restrictions near the protest sites at Delhi’s borders, the US spokesperson said: “We recognize that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”
America’s remarks come after a firestorm set off by pop star Rihanna’s tweet in support of the farmers’ agitation. This and many more tweets by celebrities, activists and US lawmakers took the protests to the world stage, prompting a sharp pushback from the government.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs warned against the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments” without a “proper understanding” of the issues.
“We 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,” the foreign ministry said in the statement using the hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
“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.”
The statement and the hashtag was shared by several Indian celebrities and ministers.