A single tweet by singer and actor Rihanna on the farmers’ protest created an electrifying effect that rattled even the central government.
On Tuesday, 2 February, sharing a report by the CNN on the internet shutdown in several parts of Delhi, Rihanna asked her 100 million followers, “Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”.
Such was the effect of the tweet that in a very unusual and surprising move, the Ministry of External Affairs actually put out an official statement rebuking celebrities, without naming anybody, who spoke about the farmers’ protest following Rihanna’s tweet.
But as the government went on to rope in Indian celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, Akshay Kumar and Sachin Tendulkar to counter the RiRi effect with a tweet storm of their own, the whole issue got global highlight doubly, even finding mention in international media.
India Accuses 'Foreign Individuals' of 'Sensationalism': BBC
In an article titled “Farmers' protest: Rihanna tweet angers Indian government”, BBC reported “India has accused 'foreign individuals' and celebrities of 'sensationalism' after a tweet by pop superstar Rihanna, extending support to protesting farmers, drew global attention.”
Talking about the Centre’s crackdown on dissenters, the report wrote, “The farmers’ protest, now in its third month, presents the biggest challenge Mr Modi has faced...The authorities are extremely sensitive to criticism and, on Monday, Twitter restored dozens of Indian accounts that were earlier blocked after a legal notice by the government, citing objections based on public order.”
RiRi Provokes Ire of Indian Govt: The Guardian
The Guardian wrote, “The pop singer Rihanna has provoked the ire of the Indian government after wading into the debate over protests by farmers in the country, just as heavy police security and 'war-like' barricades continue to be built up at demonstration sites around Delhi.”
Bollywood, Sports Stars Silent Over Farmers’ Protests: The Washington Post
A report on The Washington Post also noted that after Rihanna’s tweet, “Bollywood entertainers and sports stars, many of whom have long been silent on the farmer protests and are known to toe the government’s line, tweeted in one voice.”
Modi Govt Curtailing Free Speech: The New York Times
The New York Times wrote an analytical piece on how the Modi government’s “pattern of curtailing free speech that they fear is sending India down a dangerous path of intolerance.”
Besides the MEA’s response to Rihanna, the article also highlighted other attacks on free speech saying that “the government and its most devoted supporters grow increasingly watchful, people across the country are becoming more cautious about what they say.”
“On television channels, critics choose their words carefully to avoid making an offensive statement. A stand-up comedian remains in jail, denied bail, for a joke the police have yet to prove he made. Journalists and opposition politicians have been taken to court because of tweets that the authorities label “misleading,” or for reporting accounts that challenged the government’s version of events,” the article said.
In an opinion piece that was published on The Washington Post, referring to the government’s intimidation of Indian media, journalist Barkha Dutt wrote, “These past few days have been like a laser-sharp X-ray turned on India’s multiple fractures. In a society so polarized that people are now unable to talk across predetermined ideological positions, you are expected to either blindly support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government or the farmers’ movement. A more nuanced appraisal, which calls out lapses on each side, leads to ugly name-calling and brittle, hostile arguments.”
“The dread has gone international: Even Rihanna wants to talk about India’s farmers,” she wrote.
The Centre’s attempts to crackdown the farmers’ protest by digging trenches, cutting off internet services have been severely criticised by a large section of citizens and the opposition parties as well.
Recently on 3 February, the Centre even threatened Twitter with legal action for unblocking around 250 accounts that the IT ministry had directed to be blocked claiming they were posting “fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets” with the hashtags #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide .