Agricultural reforms are India’s internal matter but the protests here are part of British politics too, said the visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who “discussed” the ongoing farmers protests at Delhi’s borders during talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
Mr. Raab, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, said the U.K. respected India’s “heritage” of protests and debates, and was watching the situation closely.
“We [UK government] respect the fact that the reforms going through [the Indian] system here are domestic reforms,” he said in response to a question from The Hindu on whether the protests had come up in bilateral talks in Delhi.
“Your [Indian] politics is in some sense, because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, our [U.K.’s] politics,” Mr. Raab emphasised in an interaction with journalists. India had a “vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate”, which the UK has “watched…with interest”, he observed.
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The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not refer to the issue in its press statement on the meeting between the India-U.K. Foreign Ministers on Tuesday. Nor did it respond to a request for a comment on Mr. Raab’s remarks. Earlier in the month, the MEA spokesperson said that remarks by foreign leaders. including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other foreign politicians, on the farmers protests were “ill-informed” and “unwarranted”, and the matter was an “internal” issue for India.
However, Mr. Raab said that given that members of the Indian diaspora had joined protests in the U.K. over the farm Bills, this was now an issue in British politics as well. Over the past two weeks, 36 British Members of Parliament, mostly from the Opposition Labour Party had written to Mr. Raab, asking him to raise the agricultural laws, which they called a “death warrant” for farmers, while the leader of the Liberal Democratic party Ed Davey reportedly criticised the handling of the protests by Indian “militarised police” and the need to respect “human rights”.
The latest position in cases against Indian fugitives currently in the UK, including former Kingfisher group owner Vijay Mallya, whose extradition to India has been held up by the British government for more than six months now, had also been discussed during the British Foreign Secretary’s two-day visit to Delhi, he said.
“There's still some legal issues outstanding. Obviously, they’re independent from politics or political intervention. But we would like to see those expedited as swiftly as possible,” Mr. Raab told journalists.
Mr. Raab is in Delhi to prepare for the visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India as the Chief Guest of the Republic Day parade next month. He said that the U.K.-India ties on trade, maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific as a “force for good” and climate change cooperation, were all set to grow, and welcomed the India-U.K. collaboration on vaccines for COVID-19.
During his visit, Mr. Raab announced an expert-level India-U.K. “vaccine hub”, and visited a Delhi health clinic where the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines would be administered once they are made available by the Pune-based Serum Institute. Mr. Raab said the “Serum Institute and Oxford University partnership demonstrates the UK-India relationship at its best: a vaccine developed in the U.K. and made in India; drawing our brightest minds together to save lives as a global force for good”.
Mr. Raab said he could not confirm whether talks for an India-U.K. free trade agreement (FTA) would be announced when Mr. Johnson visited India, which would be his first visit abroad after U.K.’s exit from the European Union. However, Mr. Raab said the U.K. wanted to engage more closely with India in the Indo-Pacific strategically and in economic terms, after concluding trade deals with Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, along with plans to join the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership involving 11 Indo-Pacific countries).
“There's a wider regional context. Obviously, India is a key player both bilaterally for us, but also is a key player in the region. And obviously, there is the rise of China, the position of China, the opportunities, but also the risks that it presents,” he stated.