LONDON: The Indian high commission in London has published an open letter to Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, terming her relentless criticism of India’s new farm laws, the government’s handling of the farmers’ agitation and the arrest of activists Disha Ravi and Nodeep Kaur “incendiary” and unwelcome “external interference”.
“India’s internal law & order is a sovereign subject… The Hon MP @ClaudiaWebbe is, once again, invited to obtain facts and correct information from @HCI_London,” the high commission tweeted late Monday, sharing a screenshot of her comments on the arrest of Disha alongside Delhi Police’s official statement on why she was picked up.
“The government of India is more than aware of efforts by vested interests abroad to fuel the protests through misinformation and incendiary assertions that are not helpful in progressing the dialogue between the protesters and government or addressing the issues through the democratic processes that our people have traditionally relied upon,” it said.
The high commission said Webbe would have been most welcome to directly convey the apprehensions of her constituents in regard to the “pathbreaking Indian farm laws”, against which “a small section” of India’s farming community had been protesting.
On Monday, Webbe had tweeted: “Disha Ravi is 21; a student & climate activist. Nodeep Kaur is 24; a labourer & union activist. Both women were targeted, arrested & imprisoned for peacefully supporting the #FarmersProtest This suppression is driven by authoritarianism & free market capitalism.”
The day before, she had tweeted that Ravi, who “campaigns for clean air, clean water and a liveable planet”, was “now facing state sanctioned violence for peacefully supporting farmers”.
Webbe wrote, “The farmers’ protest is a climate justice protest, a human rights protest, a gender equality protest, a class protest, a protest against food insecurity. Disha Ravi is the latest to be targeted for standing up for her class”.
She linked that comment to a thread by Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, in which the latter said Disha was “being scapegoated by a regime seeking to use her as a pawn to suppress dissenting voices”.
Webbe, a close ally of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was suspended from Labour in September as she is facing criminal charges, for which she is due to stand trial in March. She chaired the emergency debate at the Labour conference in September 2019, when the anti-India Kashmir motion was unanimously passed.
On February 13, Webbe had shared on Twitter an article she had written for a newspaper, attacking India’s farm laws and urging Britain to “lead the international community in holding the Indian government to account” and to cease the sale of weapons to the country, including water cannons, tear gas and batons “which could be used against protesters in India.”
Responding to the allegation, the Indian mission said, “High Commission of India, London, would clarify that the farmers participating in the protests rallies have been treated with utmost respect and restraint by the government and security forces – more than may have been the case in similar situations elsewhere in the world.”
Leicester has the largest percentage of Indian origin people in Britain and Webbe’s tweets have not gone down well with some of the diaspora, with many pointing out it is an internal matter of India and she should focus on Britain’s problems.
A Twitter user named Kanuv (@AK79) wrote, “So you still not focusing on your constituents in Leicester then? You were voted by them to serve them. Don’t you want to be an actual local MP?”
Another called Sushrita (@SushritaR) said, “Stop interfering in our internal matters. Don’t misguide your followers. Disha or Nodeep were not supporting farmers’ protest. They were trying to break India. And we, the people of India will not let it happen.”
Webbe responded to the comments with another defiant tweet, “I will not be intimidated and I will not be silenced.”
British Sikh Labour Party member Sunny Hundal sparked a furore on Monday night when he appeared on BBC’s Newsnight to discuss the farm laws and claimed the Indian government was turning the farmers protests into a Hindu versus Sikh issue that would raise tensions between the two communities in Britain.
“It’s not just Sikhs who are getting involved in these protests. There have been protests all over India from the south to east, west and north. What is happening over there is going to have a huge impact over here, what the government is doing now is trying to make this into a Sikh protest and saying these people (the protesters) are being led by extremists and they are Sikhs and they are trying to ruin the government,” Hundal said.
“It is turning this whole issue into a Sikhs versus Hindu issue as a way to delegitimise the protests. That is dangerous because there are 500k Sikhs & 500k Hindus in the UK. If there is violence in India, there is going to be violence in this country, that is what worries me and we as the UK government have a duty to tell the Indian government to calm down some of its rhetoric as it is really hate speech over there and it is really dangerous.”
He also compared the farms laws to “putting a corner shop next to Tesco and saying to them to go and compete against each other” and said “most farmers” across India are opposed to the new laws.
Speaking to TOI afterwards, Hundal said, “I don’t want there to be any Hindu-Sikh conflict, but if people keep trying to paint the farmers as Khalistanis or the Sikhs as extremists then it will become a Hindu-Sikh issue and that will be bad for the diaspora.”