Farmers protest – Foreign hand?

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Farmers holding tricolor block Kundli Manesar Palwal Expressway (KMP) near Singhu border during their country-wide 'Chakka Jaam' against farm laws, in Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

A twitter storm caused by foreign celebrities. Indian government ordering a probe into a conspiracy to “defame” India. National icons jumping into the controversy. How did it all become such a huge mess? 

Our Bureau 
New Delhi/Washington, DC 

It started as a small protest in a corner of north India. Then it grew on the streets of Punjab. Later, farmers from Haryana and UP joined the movement. Now, farmers from at least four states are camping – for months – on the border of national capital. And the world watches as the movement and its tussle with the government turns violent and ugly.  

On Saturday, protesters blocked the Delhi-Amritsar National Highway in Amritsar on a chakka jam call by farmers from 12 noon to 3 pm in protest against the newly enacted farm laws. Earlier, amid the nationwide call for chakka jam by the farmer unions, Delhi Joint Commissioner of Police Alok Kumar said that police personnel have been deployed at strategic locations on the borders of the national capital. 

Farmers have been protesting at different borders of the national capital since November 26 last year against the three newly enacted farm laws: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

 Farmers blocking Kundli Manesar Palwal Expressway (KMP) near Singhu border in New Delhi on Saturday (ANI)

Also, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait on Saturday said that they have given time to the central government till October 2 to resolve the ongoing farm laws issue, adding that farmers will not return to their homes unless their demands are heard and the three new farm laws are repealed.

Speaking at the Ghazipur protest site, Tikait said, “We have given time to the government till October 2 to repeal the laws. After this, we will do further planning. We won’t hold discussions with the government under pressure.” He also demanded to make a law on the minimum support price (MSP) of crop procurement.

BKU leader Rakesh Tikait addresses the farmers during an ongoing protest against the new farm laws, at the Delhi-Ghazipur border in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

The farmers’ unions conducted a three-hour ‘chakka jam’ across the country today between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Police had intensified their security measures and deployed personnel at all important points in Delhi and other states to maintain law and order.

Eleven rounds of talks have been held between the government and the protesting farmer unions over their demand for repealing farm laws. The government had offered to put the new farm laws on hold for about 18 months.

This week, the issue took a global turn as a tweet by pop icon Rihanna on farmers agitation in India kicked up an Internet storm. The international superstar was later joined by other celebrities like climate activist Greta Thunberg and US Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris

Rihanna’s tweet on Tuesday linked to a news story about the internet blockade at the protest sites and soon went viral, gaining more than 700,000 likes. “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” wrote the singer, who has 100 million followers on the social network. After Rihanna’s tweet, Swedish teenage climate activist Thunberg tweeted “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.”

Meanwhile, Meena Harris on Wednesday tweeted: She wrote on Twitter, “It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago, and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault.”

“This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” she added. 

Meena Harris with her aunt Kamala Harris (file photo)

Just a day after pop-singer Rihanna expressed concerns over the ongoing farmers’ protest in India, Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanj released a new song ‘RiRi (Rihanna),’ in appreciation of the global icon. Dosanjh made the announcement about the song just a few minutes before its release. The track has been written by Raj Ranjodh and music has been given by Intense Music. The track named ‘RiRi’, which is two-minutes-fifteen-seconds long, features Dosanjh heaping praises on the ‘Diamonds’ singer.

Through the lyrics of the song, the Punjabi musician talks about Rihanna’s home country Barbados and about the regular cliche of beauty and clothing. In the main part of the song, Diljit also sings about how Rihanna is an angel who has descended from heaven on Earth. 

The government of India sees a big conspiracy behind the twitter storm. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday said that there was a reason why MEA reacted to the remarks of some celebrities in relation to protest by farmer unions and noted that they spoke “on matters on which they obviously didn’t know very much”.

The minister told ANI that ‘toolkit’ case, which is being probed by police, has revealed a lot. “I think it has revealed a lot. We have to wait and see what comes out. You can see there was a reason why the foreign ministry reacted to the statements which some celebrities gave out on matters on which they obviously didn’t know very much,” Jaishankar said.

He was responding to a question about ‘toolkit’ case.

The Ministry of External Affairs had said in a statement earlier this week that protests by farmers against new farm laws 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,” the ministry had said.

Earlier, Delhi Police on Friday wrote a letter to Google seeking registration details and activity log of the account through which a “toolkit” related to the farmers’ protest was created and uploaded on the social media platform. Two e-mail IDs, one Instagram account and one Unifrom Resource Locator (URL) were mentioned in the toolkit and police has asked for details from the respective platforms.

The police had registered an FIR against unnamed persons in connection with the creators of the “toolkit’.

Delhi Police Special Commissioner Praveer Ranjan had said they had identified some 300 accounts spreading dissatisfaction and disharmony towards the Government of India. ‘”Toolkit’ account was being run by a group of Khalistanis. They had decided to conduct a digital strike post the Republic Day incident. We have recovered a document about the planned execution. We have found out that is a copycat execution. As of now, we have registered cases against the authors of that account. The case has been handed over to the cyber cell. Investigations are underway,” he had said.

The police believe there was a conspiracy behind the January 26 violence in Delhi too. Delhi Police on Saturday said they are examining the footage of violent incidents that took place during the farmers’ tractor rally against the new farm laws on Republic Day, adding that the Cyber Cell is investigating videos and others material being uploaded and posted on social media from foreign locations.

A Delhi Police spokesperson said that the cyber-world has no boundaries; things can be uploaded from anywhere, adding that investigation goes forward by locating their coordinates. The Cyber Cell is working on it.

Delhi Police on Friday wrote a letter to Google seeking registration details and activity log of the account through which a “toolkit” related to the farmers’ protest was created and uploaded on the social media platform.

Farmers have been protesting at different borders of the national capital since November 26 last year against the three newly-enacted farm laws. 

Meanwhile, even national icons have been dragged into the controversy. Days after Sachin Tendulkar made comments in the wake remarks of some celebrities on the protest by farmers, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Saturday asked the former Indian skipper Sachin Tendulkar to “exercise caution while speaking about other fields”.

“Many people (celebrities) have reacted sharply to the stand taken by them (farmers). My suggestion to Sachin Tendulkar is he should be cautious while commenting on fields other than his domain,” Pawar told reporters here. Tendulkar had said after comments by a few international celebrities on farmers’ protests that India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised and external forces can be spectators but not participants

“India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation. #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda,” Tendulkar had tweeted on Wednesday.

Pawar accused the central government of trying to defame the farmers’ agitation. “The Central Government is trying to defame the farmers’ agitation by calling them Khalistani and terrorists. It is not a good practice to insult the ‘annadata’ of the nation,” he said. 

Amid such charges and counter-charges, a battle of nerves continues in the heart of India. 

Farmers ride a tractor on a deserted road near Delhi on Saturday (ANI)

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