New Delhi/Washington, Feb 4 (PTI) In its first reaction to the ongoing farmers’ agitation, the new US administration on Thursday said it encourages that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue even as it backed steps that can improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater investment.
The US also said peaceful protests and unhindered access to the internet are “hallmark” of a “thriving democracy”.
The remarks were made by the State Department in Washington and the US embassy in Delhi in response to questions on the over two-month-long protests by farmers at the national capital’s borders.
“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. The talks between the farmer unions and the Centre have remained deadlocked.
An identical response was given by a State Department spokesperson in Washington.
“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.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA).
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 agitating against the three contentious agri laws 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 Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) on Wednesday said the “temptation” of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments is “neither accurate nor responsible”.
Emphasising that the protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, the MEA further said that some vested interest groups have tried to mobilise international support against the country.
Meanwhile, several American lawmakers 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.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year, demanding that the government repeal the three farm laws and legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
Defending the three agri laws enacted in September, the MEA had said: “these reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.”
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.