British PM takes flak for saying Indian farmers' protest a matter between Pakistan and India

Published December 10, 2020
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacting as the then leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn speaks in reponse to his G7 statement in the House of Commons in London on September 3, 2019. — AFP/File
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacting as the then leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn speaks in reponse to his G7 statement in the House of Commons in London on September 3, 2019. — AFP/File

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invited strong criticism from members of the UK parliament after he termed the ongoing protests by Indian farmers as a matter between India and Pakistan.

During the question and answer hour in the UK parliament on Wednesday, Johnson was responding to a question by Sikh MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi regarding the ongoing protests by farmers in India against laws passed by the Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Dhesi had expressed concern over the use of force by the Indian state against peaceful protesters and had asked if Johnson would "convey to the Indian prime minister our heartfelt anxieties, our hopes for a speedy resolution to the current deadlock".

"Does he (Johnson) agree that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest?" Dhesi had questioned.

"Our view is that [...] of course we have serious concerns about what is happening between India and Pakistan but these are preeminently matters for those two governments to settle and I know that he (Dhesi) appreciates that point," responded Johnson as Dhesi watched, taken aback.

Dhesi expressed his disappointment in a two-part tweet, saying "it might help if our PM actually knew what he was talking about".

"The world is watching, issue is a huge one with hundreds of thousands protesting globally (including in London, reported on by BBC) and the usual Boris Johnson bluff and bluster heaps further embarrassment onto our nation. Absolutely clueless! So disappointed with his response," the MP added.

The gaffe was also criticised by other MPs including Sharon Hodgson, Afzal Khan and Zarah Sultana.

Responding to Dhesi's tweet, Hodgson said: "This is so embarrassing Tan! Does he really not know what you are referring to?"

MP Khan reminded his followers that Johnson was the former British foreign secretary and said: "A new low even for @BorisJohnson. My friend @tandhesi asked an important question at #PMQs about the peaceful protests by farmers in Delhi. The PM responded with a rehearsed and unrelated answer about India and Pakistan. The issue has nothing to do with Pakistan. Incredible."

MP Sultana said: "Is it too much to ask for a PM who knows the difference between Kashmir & Punjab?"

Indian farmers' protest

Farmers across India, but especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana, have been out on the streets to protest against laws passed by the BJP government in September. According to the farmers, the agricultural legislation will devastate crop prices and threaten their livelihoods.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, however, says that the new laws are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and give growers more options to sell their produce.

The blockades and strikes have taken on a political dimension with the ruling BJP accusing opposition parties of opportunism by rejecting measures they had called for when in power.

Though the Indian government has invited farmers to hold talks, they have so far been fruitless.

Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades.

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