NEW DELHI: The Indian government has slammed a debate held in the House of Commons on press freedom and safety of farmer protesters in India saying it was one-sided and packed with false assertions.
The High Commission of India in London issued a statement immediately after the debate held in Westminster Hall at which 17 out of 18 British MPs attacked Indian democracy.
“The High Commission of India has taken note of a distinctly one-sided discussion among a group of H’ble UK Parliamentarians in a Westminster committee room in response to an e-petition campaign. High Commission of India has been, over a period of time, taking care to inform all concerned about the issues raised in the petition. We deeply regret that rather than a balanced debate, false assertions – without substantiation or facts – were made, casting aspersions on the largest functioning democracy in the world and its institutions,” the spokesman said.
“All issues raised are the remit of well-established independent democratic institutions in India for addressing the same. It is also a matter of concern that, once again, comments were made to mislead the British Indian community, raising doubts about treatment of minorities in India, alleged human rights violations in ‘Kashmir’ etc,” the spokesman said.
During the debate MPs – from both Labour and the ruling Conservatives – condemned India for its treatment of farmer protesters and alleged crackdown on the press, as well as Internet shutdowns and arrest of activists.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, ex leader of the Labour party, claimed that 250 million people were taking part in the “strike”, which he described as the biggest ever industrial dispute in the history of this planet.
PoK-origin Labour MP Tahir Ali, took the opportunity to launch a tirade against the BJP government, saying “I demand that the UK Government condemn Prime Minister Modi and the actions of his BJP Government. They continue to abuse the human and civil rights not only of farmers, but of Kashmiri people…They are cracking down on press freedom and political dissent, censoring critics and blocking access to the internet….Both Modi and the BJP Government are linked to the rise in violent religious persecution within India, including attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.”
Labour MP Pakistan-origin Naz Shah claimed because the protests have been dominated by Sikh protesters from Punjab, the Indian government have tried to silence their voices by marginalising the issue to one that affects a single community, whilst Labour MP John McDonnell said: “Journalists are continuously being targeted by arrests and intimidation, and falsely accused of criminal charges. Tragically, the political leadership feels it can act with impunity.”
The High Commission rejected all these claims saying: “Foreign media, including the British media, are present in India and have witnessed the events under discussion first-hand. The question of lack of freedom of the media in India does not arise. The High Commission of India would normally refrain from commenting on an internal discussion involving a small group of H’ble Parliamentarians in a limited quorum. However, when aspersions are cast on India by anyone, irrespective of their claims of friendship and love for India, there is a need to set the record straight.”
Indian diaspora group, Advocacy for British Hindus and Indians (ABHI) UK, fired off a letter to Catherine McKinnell MP, chair of the Petitions Committee, to ask why the British Parliament is “being weaponised to discuss a foreign country’s issues over which Parliament has no obligation or influence and wasting taxpayer money.”
The letter asked why the debate, “having no direct relevance to the UK’s economy or citizens” had been fast-tracked ahead of a petition with 1.1 million signatures on calling to end child food poverty in the UK, or a petition calling for yearly cervical screening for women, which had been waiting 48 days for a debate.
“Has the UK Parliamentary system been taken hostage by motivated interests pushing divisive, incendiary agendas in third countries? “ the letter asks.
“It is a travesty that the UK Parliament has been forced to prioritise debate on a section of India’s farmers and existential issues about its citizens are relegated.”
Conservative MP Bob Blackman, whose constituency, Harrow east, has a large number of British Indian Gujarati constituents, said: “It seems there is a deliberate attempt to stir up hostility between the UK and India in a completely unnecessary fashion. India and the UK are moving together on cooperation with defence, security, on trade and other aspects of our working relationship. That needs to be encouraged and not destroyed in the way some people want to wish.”