US welcomes farm reforms

On internet restrictions at the protest sites along the border, the US administration said that it recognises that “unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”

As the government and the farmers’ talks are yet to make any headway after several rounds of talks, the US administration under President Joseph Biden on Thursday said that it “encouraged” differences between the parties to be resolved “through dialogue”.

However, it said that the United States “welcomed steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.” This is in reference to the three farmers’ laws.

On internet restrictions at the protest sites along the border, the US administration said that it recognises that “unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”

The comments were first made by the US State Department, in response to questions, and was later reiterated by the US Embassy spokesperson in New Delhi on Thursday.

The US embassy spokesperson in New Delhi said, “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. In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.”

On internet restrictions, the 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.”

While there was no response to the US administration’s statement from New Delhi on Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs — in an official statement while responding to pop icon Rihanna, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and lawyer-author Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris’s comments — had responded on Wednesday.

In a highly unusual move that has raised eyebrows, the government had on Wednesday slammed “celebrities and others” for their comments in support of farmer protests, calling them “neither accurate nor responsible”.

The MEA had said, “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.”

Defending the farm laws, the MEA, in its statement, had given a full account of the process: “The Parliament of India, after a full debate and discussion, passed reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector. These reforms give expanded market access and provide greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.”

It said “a very small section of farmers in parts of India has some reservations about these reforms”.

“Respecting the sentiments of the protestors, the Government of India has initiated a series of talks with their representatives. Union Ministers have been part of the negotiations, and eleven rounds of talks have already been held. The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India,” the MEA said.

“Yet, it is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them. This was egregiously witnessed on January 26, India’s Republic Day. A cherished national commemoration, the anniversary of the inauguration of the Constitution of India, was besmirched, and violence and vandalism took place in the Indian capital,” it had said.

“Some of these vested interest groups have also tried to mobilise international support against India. Instigated by such fringe elements, Mahatma Gandhi statues have been desecrated in parts of the world. This is extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere,” it had said, referring to statues being vandalized in the US recently.

The MEA had said Indian police forces have handled these protests with utmost restraint. “It may be noted that hundreds of men and women serving in the police have been physically attacked, and in some cases stabbed and seriously wounded,” it said.

“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,” it said.

Last December, days after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came out in support of the protesting farmers, India summoned the Canadian envoy and warned that such “actions”, if they continued, would have a “seriously damaging impact” on bilateral ties.

While Trudeau was the first head of a country to speak out on the protests, he was not the only foreign politician to do so. At least a dozen members of parliament from the UK, Australia, Canada and a Republican Party functionary from the US also voiced support for the farmers.

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