What India’s MEA Statement Against Rihanna & Co Doesn’t Consider
“MEA statement ignores the fact that much of Indian diaspora is from our rural countryside”: Manish Tewari
(In light of ongoing conversations and debates over the issue of ‘outsiders’ such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg criticising the goings-on in India at present, and the subsequent statement from the MEA, The Quint has invited experts across the board to weigh in on the matter. Other analyses can be accessed here and here.)
The Ministry of External Affairs is considered to be a wise establishment run by level-headed minds. However, its recent statement — a reaction to the likes of international pop star Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg’s tweets in solidarity with India’s protesting farmers — has raised questions and earned it flak from some quarters.
The statement needs to reproduced in full to appreciate why it has provoked the current piece:
What MEA Said Against Rihanna & Other Celebrities’ Tweets Supporting India’s Farmers
“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 provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.A very small section of farmers in parts of India have 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.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.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.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.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.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.”
MEA Statement: Things That Have and Have Not Been Said
Not only is the MEA statement not wholly accurate, it may even be called a travesty of the truth. The record of the Rajya Sabha and the video record of events as they unfolded, demonstrates that the farm bills were passed in a completely unconstitutional manner, giving parliamentary procedure, decorum a complete pass.
Microphones of MPs were muted and a call for division — a right of MPs — was not even entertained. It was brushed aside in an extremely imperious manner. The statement is being more than economical with the truth and insults the lakhs of farmers who have been protesting these draconian farm laws, braving the cold and COVID-19 for over two and a half months now, by stating that ‘only a very small section’ of the farmers are agitating.
It also does not disclose that no less than the top court in India has stayed the implementation of these laws as there is a legal challenge to their very constitutionality.
A Large Part Of Indian Diaspora Is Intrinsically Rural: What the MEA Statement Ignores
The statement is a ‘bit rich’ when it counsels celebrities to acquaint themselves with the facts of the matter at hand before tweeting. It conveniently overlooks the fact that our head of state had once said ‘ab ki baar Trump sarkaar’ — which could be seen as an ‘interference’ in the internal democratic processes of a friendly nation. Even repeated mobilisations of the Indian diaspora across the world, many of them citizens and nationals of the countries that they have adopted — both willingly and voluntarily — for political purposes may have been tolerated by those nations but certainly not appreciated.
The statement ignores the fact that a very large Indian diaspora is intrinsically and organically from the rural countryside, with deep cultural and syncretic roots in their native land. They are today standing in solidarity with their brethren in their hour of trial and tribulation.
Given the fact that the statement was overtly partisan and political, and certainly undiplomatic by any stretch of imagination, it obviously would not have acknowledged that over a hundred farmers have lost their lives in the current agitation.
MEA Statement Also ‘Dismissed’ the Fact that Agriculture Is the Only Shining Spot in Our Economy
With 86.2 percent of the farmers owning less than five acres of land with a majority of them owning less than two acres according to the agricultural Census of 2015-16, the struggle for them is existential. Anyone cultivating a three acre patch does not earn more than Rs -15000 per month and that too with Minimum Price Support (MSP Support). Those without it are much worse off.
These Farm Bills in the name of contract farming and various other invidious instrumentalities seeks to undo the seminal land reforms initiated at the commencement of the republic. The farmers view them as a noxious design to grab their land.
Not only did these reforms give land and dignity to the tiller but have been instrumental in both preserving and deepening our democracy. Countries that did not go through the agrarian reforms paradigm in our neighbourhood remain deeply feudal and therefore backward societies prone to prolonged spells of military or one party rule.
The issues that bedevil agrarian India which is currently simmering are complex, nuanced, multi-layered — whose mishandling would have serious implications for both India’s economy and societal stability.
Agriculture is the only shining spot in our otherwise mishandled economy which is in the 37th month of sequential decline.
In fact, it is the MEA that should ascertain facts before rushing in where angels fear to tread.
(Manish Tewari is a lawyer, Congress MP, Former Union Information & Broadcasting Minister, GoI). He tweets @ManishTewari. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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