US urges India to resume talks with protesting farmers


Activists of United Hindu Front (UHF) hold pictures of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Barbadian singer Rihanna during a demonstration in New Delhi on February 4, 2021, after they made comments on social media about mass farmers' protests in India. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Activists of United Hindu Front (UHF) hold pictures of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Barbadian singer Rihanna during a demonstration in New Delhi on February 4, 2021, after they made comments on social media about mass farmers' protests in India. (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)

THE US embassy in New Delhi on Thursday(4) urged the Indian government to resume talks with farmers angry over agricultural reforms that sparked a months-long protest campaign.

Largely restricted to the outskirts of New Delhi, the mostly peaceful protests were marred by violence on January 26., when some protesters entered the heart of the capital city after the Republic Day military parade and clashed with police.

Television images broadcast internationally of protesters occupying the ramparts of New Delhi’s historic Red Fort and later clashing with police raised awareness of the confrontation between Modi’s government and the farmers.

“We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” a US embassy spokesperson said in a statement that also proffered general support to government measures to “improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.”

Police remain on guard against further attempts by farmers to bring their mass protest into the capital, and have bolstered barricades at three main sites.

Earlier this week internet services were temporarily suspended in some areas, drawing widespread criticism, including from international activists and celebrities.

“We recognize that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy,” the US embassy spokesperson said.

In response to social media posts on the internet shutdowns, India’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday(3) said vested interest groups were mobilising international support against the country.

There was no immediate response from the ministry to the US  comments on Thursday.

Modi’s government has held multiple rounds of talks with representatives of farmers who have camped on the outskirts of the capital since late 2020, but there has been no word on when talks would resume following the Republic Day violence.

At a rally in northern Haryana state on Wednesday, thousands of farmers from the politically influential Jat community backed a call to waive farm loans and increase crop prices paid by the government.

“If the government doesn’t concede to our demands, thousands more farmers will march towards Delhi,” Kek Ram Kandela, a leader among the Jat farmers, told the rally attended by more than 50,000 people.

The farmers’ cause has also drawn support from the Indian diaspora in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US.

In late November, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau raised India hackles by speaking about the protests in a video message, saying he was concerned for the farmers. New Delhi said such comments were “an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs.”

The farmers argue that three new farm laws will hurt their interests while benefiting large firms.

But the government says the reforms will bring much-needed investment to a farm sector, that accounts for nearly 15 per cent of India’s $2.9 trillion economy but employs about half its workforce.

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