Rihanna, Greta On Farmers’ Protests: Was MEA’s Response Suitable?

“A perception warfare is being waged, so govt must highlight the factual position to amend the distortion.”

4 min read
Image of Greta Thunberg and Rihanna, against the backdrop of the farmers’ protests in Delhi, used for representational purposes.

(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. Here is another analysis.)

Question: What do Justin Trudeau, Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Mia Khalifa have in common? Answer: they have become ‘Indophiles’ or more precisely ‘Indo-farmaphiles’ overnight! What is more, Greta, the young climate activist, is also in possession of a ‘toolkit’ prepared by the ‘poor and marginalised’ farmers to engineer a global ‘Twitter storm’ and other kinds of protests. She hastily deletes the document and consequent to some adverse comments in the social media, re-posts it a few hours later.


What, Exactly, Is The Matter?

So, what is the issue here? Are foreign nationals forbidden from commenting on India’s internal affairs? Not at all!

Do Indians not comment, often critically, on international personalities and developments? Absolutely yes! Does the Government of India not have the right and responsibility to rebut distortions, falsehoods and motivated propaganda, pedalled by vested interest groups, both at home and abroad?Not according to an office bearer of a prominent opposition party in India, who took exception in a TV discussion, to a detailed statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on 3 February. The ‘courteous’ individual even described MEA as a ‘poodle’ choosing to overlook a ‘minor’ detail that it is a part of the Government of India or that in an efficient administration, different ministries do not function at cross purposes.

In the statement the ministry reiterated that the Indian Parliament had passed a reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector, noted that a small section of farmers had some reservations; that eleven rounds of talks had been held and also that the government had offered to keep the laws in abeyance.

It went on to describe the exceptional restraint shown by security forces notwithstanding the violence and vandalism including at the Red Fort, one of the national symbols, on 26 January 2021, India’s Republic Day.

The very fact that hundreds of police officials had been wounded and some seriously injured, spoke for itself. In this context, the ministry urged the institutions and celebrities weighing in on the matter to acquaint themselves with the factual position. The statement neither named anybody nor objected to interventions by non-Indians.

Why It’s Essential For Govt To Highlight Facts & Set The Record Straight

Now the question is whether the MEA’s statement could have been timed better or whether it should have been issued at all? Some observers point out that it gave the oxygen of publicity to the tweets of the individuals mentioned above. Frankly, there can never be a right answer to such a conundrum. It is evident that well-choreographed and funded information and perception warfare is being waged, by external and internal forces, in pursuance of extraneous considerations. It is therefore essential for the government to highlight the factual position regularly in order to correct the distortion.

As it is social media thrives on sensationalism. Official versions are treated with suspicion and do not get adequate play.

On the other hand, unverified rumours and gossip is lapped up. The relative anonymity, ease of communication, disproportionate reach and impact, as well as haste in going public, further complicates matters.

Notwithstanding the posturing, it is a no-brainer that the protests are being led by forces — internal and external — who have their own axe to grind or are loath to see the rise of India. They would do anything within their power to fish in troubled waters.


Some External Intervention In Farmers’ Protests Is Neither Altruistic Nor Organic

The protests in NCR have entered the third month. The scale, planning, preparations and reach demonstrate that a well-oiled machinery is guiding it. The intervention by some of the personalities mentioned above is by no means altruistic or organic. It is the handiwork of influential forces that are aiding and abetting the agitation from behind the scenes.

About Mr Trudeau, the less said the better. His administration is one of the most strident critics of India's Minimum Support Price (MSP) at the WTO, yet actuated by questionable motives he suddenly opted to express concern and support for the farmers. His “surrendering to domestic politics, has put at risk Indo-Canadian relations” writes Dr Jagdish Bhagwati.

That said, in the short term I anticipate more international reactions, not all of which may be to our liking.

In response to a question on 3 February, the US State Department spokesperson said: “We recognise that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy… We encourage that any differences… be resolved through dialogue… (we welcome) steps that would improve the efficiency of India's markets and attract greater private sector investment…” which is quite factual.

He added — “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression …” — where we may have a difference of opinion. What is a necessity for the Americans — given that their per capita income is 30 times that of India's — may or may not be so for us. We are quite capable of taking steps warranted by our security or strategic considerations.

Why We Must Stay The Course & Ignore Naysayers

In sum, while it is desirable to take the international opinion along, we don't have to prove anything to anyone. We can be justifiably proud of our democratic traditions and strong roots.

India has handled numerous insurgencies and protests over the last seven decades. All of them were resolved on the negotiating table.

Not only that, after swearing by the country’s constitution, yesterday's insurgents became today's leaders. We need to stay the course and continue with the approach of maximum accommodation with requisite firmness. The naysayers and trolls will do what they do best. Good luck to them!

(The writer is a former High Commissioner to Canada, Ambassador to South Korea and Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached at @AmbVPrakash. 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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