New Delhi: UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab revealed on Wednesday that he “discussed” the farmers protest over new laws with his Indian counterpart, but added that agricultural reforms were India’s domestic political issue.
The UK minister is here on a four-day trip to pave the way for the India visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson next month. He will be the sixth UK leader to be chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations.
There had been no mention of the farmers’ protest featuring in discussion in the official press communiques of both sides, but Raab confirmed that it did come up in an interview with journalists.
“I didn’t raise it (with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi). It was something I discussed with foreign minister Jaishankar but in the context, of course, the reforms that Indian government are trying to pass. That is a domestic political issue, of course,” he told the BBC in an interview on Wednesday, after his meeting with the Indian PM.
After he noted that the agricultural reforms were a domestic issue for India, he added, “We understand that different groups disagree with that. As we are discussing earlier, India has a tradition of noisy debate, which is quite right, that shows the health of the democracy and ultimately those are matter politically for discussion within India and its democratic framework, but I did have good conversation update with Dr Jaishankar about that”.
Earlier this month, a group of 36 British MPs from across political parties, but mostly Labour, had written a letter to the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab, seeking intervention of the government on the protests. “This in an issue of particular concern to Sikhs in the UK and those linked to Punjab, although it also heavily impacts on other Indian states. Many Sikhs and Punjabis have taken this matter up with their MPs as they have family members and ancestral land in Punjab,” the letter stated.
The MPs had urged the British government to convey these concerns to the Indian leadership.
In another meeting with journalists, Raab reiterated that the UK respects that the farm laws were a matter of the Indian system, but added that the protests were being watched due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora.
“Of course, (farm laws) they have elicited the protests that you refer to, and your politics – in some sense – because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, is our politics. But I think, India, as well as having a market-driven economy also has a vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate, and we watch that with interest and we respect it,” he said, as per The Hindu.
There was no response from the Ministry of External Affairs on the UK foreign secretary stating that the matter had been discussed.
The UK PM was also asked a question about the farmers protestors in parliament, but Johnson only reiterated his country’s position on India-Pakistan dispute. Later, UK clarified that Johnson had “misheard” the question.
India had earlier summoned the Canadian envoy after Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau had expressed support for the right to peaceful protests by Indian farmers. India had termed the remarks by Trudeau and other Canadian politicians as “ill-informed”, “unwarranted” and an “unpalatable interference” in India’s internal affairs.