Rakesh Tikait, an influential farmer leader from western Uttar Pradesh whose emotional outburst last week in the face of a crackdown by the state government pumped new momentum into the two-month-long protest, on Thursday said he did not know of his latest supporters from abroad.
But if the likes of US-based pop star Rihanna, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and adult movie star Mia Khalifa had expressed support for the farmers’ movement against the government’s new farm laws, the 51-year-old Bharatiya Kisan Union leader from Muzaffarnagar had no problem.
“Who are these foreign artistes? They may have supported us, but I don’t know them,” Mr Tikait was quoted as saying by news agency PTI at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border about his new band of supporters who had funnelled international attention to the movement.
“If some foreigner is supporting the movement, then what is the problem. They are not giving us or taking anything away from us,” he said, demonstrating unawareness about the new wave of support and ensuing conspiracy theories about foreign intervention in the protests.
Since late November, thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi’s borders demanding that the three new farm laws, which they say will leave them at the mercy of corporates, be repealed.
The government, which has failed to address their concerns in several rounds of talks, has made efforts to have them removed or have their access to information and supporters cut off in a crackdown that escalated after clashes in Delhi between protesters and the police on Republic Day last month.
The government’s efforts to choke the farmers’ protest – with internet shutdowns, barbed wire, road spikes, concrete walls and a media blockade – have drawn international condemnation following tweets by Rihanna, Ms Thunberg and others this week.
To counter the bad press, an avalanche of tweets by actors, cricketers, ministers, Indian missions abroad and leaders and supporters of the ruling BJP pushed two government-backed hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda to the top of Twitter trends on Wednesday.
(With inputs from PTI)