After tweets from a set of global figures expressing solidarity with the farm protests, and a strong ministry of external affairs statement defending the farm laws and rebuking “vested interest groups”, the battle over the narrative on the farm protests escalated on social media
After tweets from a set of global figures expressing solidarity with the farm protests, and a strong ministry of external affairs statement defending the farm laws and rebuking “vested interest groups”, the battle over the narrative on the farm protests escalated on social media. The hashtag wars, in essence, saw those who oppose the government and its perceived crackdown on liberty leverage global support to push a narrative of India’s democratic backsliding. On the other side, those who were sympathetic to the government’s views framed it as an issue of national sovereignty and expressed their opposition to any external view on the matter.
The Twitter battle actually throws up a larger question for India’s liberal political stream and critics of the government. At a time when they — rightly or wrongly — feel that the rules of the game have become skewed in favor of the ruling regime domestically, they end up seeking or leveraging international support as a way to enhance pressure on the government. This can be viewed in two ways. For those who believe in the idea of absolute national sovereignty, the prospect that external players should be participants in a domestic issue is unacceptable. For those who believe that democracy and human rights are universal values and override sovereignty, the idea of external participants raising their voice is entirely acceptable.
This is a tricky terrain. Yes, international support — even if it is from private citizens, irrespective of whether it is spontaneous or encouraged — can help in magnifying internal weaknesses. And yes, in these times of interconnectedness, despite the anarchy that exists in the international system, any State, including India, has to take into account global conventions and norms. At the same time, as the social media pushback against this external display of solidarity showed, it is easy for this to become a tool of nationalist mobilization for the government. Once again, irrespective of whether the tweets by Indian celebrities backing the government’s narrative were orchestrated or not, it adds to the narrative that a “foreign hand” is out to weaken India — which suits the political regime just fine in consolidating its domestic base and deflecting blame. The bottom-line is simple. There are limits to external engagement, and India’s internal battles will have to be fought internally.