Second day of talks aimed to break impasse over laws passed earlier this year that farmers say will benefit corporates.
India has summoned the Canadian High Commissioner to formally register a complaint against comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the ongoing farmers’ protests, warning “such actions will have seriously damaging impact on ties”.
New Delhi told the envoy that “comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, some Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament on issues relating to Indian farmers constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs,” according to a statement issued on Friday by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
“These comments have encouraged gatherings of extremist activities in front of our High Commission and Consulates in Canada that raise issues of safety and security. We expect the Canadian Government to ensure the fullest security of Indian diplomatic personnel and its political leaders to refrain from pronouncements that legitimize extremist activism.”
Speaking at an online event to mark the 551st birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the Canadian leader said earlier this week that the news coming out of India was “concerning” and his country would “always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest”.
New Delhi had denounced Trudeau’s comments, terming them as “unwarranted”.
“We have seen some ill-informed comments by Canadian leaders relating to farmers in India. Such comments are unwarranted, especially when pertaining to the internal affairs of a democratic country,” the MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Tuesday.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting outside the Indian capital, New Delhi, for more than a week now, demanding the scrapping of controversial agriculture laws enacted by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Farmers fear that the minimum support price (MSP) – the price at which the government buys farm produce – will be abolished gradually and they will be left at the mercy of private players.
‘Tantamount to interference in India’s sovereign matters’
Some Indians, including politicians, have taken strong exception to comments by foreign leaders or officials on issues facing the country.
In March, New Delhi slammed the United Nations’ human rights body after it filed a petition against its controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which critics say discriminates against Muslims – India’s largest minority.
“The CAA is an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws. We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi [rights] on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty,” India’s then-MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement on March 3.
Several politicians from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States have expressed their solidarity with Indian farmers over the past few days and criticised the Modi government’s handling of the biggest protests in years.
But Trudeau became the first head of a country to comment on the issue that has set the Modi government on the back foot.
On Tuesday, #Canada was trending on Twitter as Indians shared their views on social media following Trudeau’s comments.
Ram Madhav, a leader of the governing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), tweeted that the Canadian prime minister’s comments were “tantamount to interference in India’s sovereign matters”.
Indian politicians have accused Canadian leaders, including current Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, of having links with Khalistani groups – which are believed to have been behind an armed rebellion in the state of Punjab during the 1980s for a separate Sikh state. Sajjan has denied the allegations.
The Khalistani issue cast a shadow over Trudeau’s 2018 visit to India during which the Canadian prime minister was snubbed by the Modi government, which has been known for its strident anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies.
Canada is home to a large number of Indian immigrants, mostly from India’s Punjab state where most of the current protesters have farms. Trudeau has been hailed for his pro-immigrant policy and has inducted four Indian-origin ministers into his cabinet, three of whom are from the Sikh minority community.
Modi has defended the controversial laws and accused opposition parties of misleading the farmers, who have dubbed the bills “anti-farmer”. His government says the new laws will bring much-needed private investment to the crisis-hit agricultural sector.