Rihanna, Greta Thunberg anger India by supporting farmer protests

Following tweets by international celebrities, foreign ministry says ‘vested interest groups’ trying to mobilise support against the government.

Farmers shout slogans during a day-long hunger strike to protest against new farm laws, on the outskirts of New Delhi on January 30, 2021 [Manish Swarup/AP]

Pop superstar Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg have drawn the ire of the Indian government after they tweeted in support of the huge protests against the new farm laws.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of India’s capital New Delhi since November, calling for a repeal of laws they fear will allow large corporations to crush them.

Rihanna, who has more than 100 million followers on Twitter, wrote “why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”, with a link to a news story about a government crackdown that included an internet blackout.

Her comment was retweeted more than 230,000 times and liked by more than half a million users.

She was joined by several international celebrities, including legislators from the United States and Britain, who expressed their solidarity with the protesting farmers.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, one of the world’s most prominent environmental campaigners, also tweeted a story about the internet blackout, saying: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.”

There was also support from the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India.

“We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” tweeted Meena Harris.

The international celebrity tweets triggered an online storm in India, where the farmers’ protests have become one of the biggest challenges to Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he took power in 2014.

India’s government has bristled at international remarks on the protests, calling them an “internal matter”, adding that “vested interest groups” were trying to mobilise support against the government.

India’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday the celebrities needed “a proper understanding of the issues”.

“The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” it said in a statement, with the hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.

Members of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters regularly brand their critics traitors, propagandists and “anti-nationals”.

Some Indians tweeted in support of Rihanna, but others were not pleased, with her remarks getting abusive replies.

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a vocal Modi supporter, responded by calling the protesting farmers “terrorists” and Rihanna a “fool”.

Modi has said the laws are necessary to modernise India’s agriculture sector, but farmers fear they would put them at the mercy of big corporations.

Government supporters raise anti-farmer slogans and wave Indian flags near New Delhi [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

A forum of farmers’ unions said the government had disconnected electricity and water, suspended the internet and social media accounts and removed mobile toilets at the protest sites.

The police have been fortifying barricades and digging trenches on the highways to stop protesters from entering the capital after a group resorted to violence on January 26.

Twitter temporarily blocked tens of accounts tweeting about the protests on Monday at the demand of the Indian government, while police have detained dozens of farmers and filed sedition charges against prominent journalists.

India – the world’s biggest democracy – regularly uses internet shutdowns to limit information sharing during disturbances.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies