India incensed by Rihanna farmers tweet

·2-min read

It took just one tweet from Rihanna to infuriate the Indian government and supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party.

The pop superstar linked a news article in a tweet drawing attention to the massive farmer protests that have gripped India for more than two months.

Senior government ministers, Indian celebrities and even the foreign ministry hit back, urging people to come together and denounce outsiders who try to break the country.

"It is unfortunate to see vested-interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them," India's foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been hunkering down on the fringes of the Indian capital to protest new agricultural laws they say will leave them poorer and at the mercy of corporations.

The protests are posing a major challenge to Modi who has billed the laws as necessary to modernise Indian farming.

The largely peaceful protests turned violent on January 26, India's Republic Day, when a section of the tens of thousands of farmers riding tractors veered from the protest route agreed with police and swarmed the 17th-century Red Fort in a dramatic escalation.

Hundreds of police officers and farmers were injured and a protester died.

Since then, authorities have heavily increased security at protest sites outside New Delhi's border, adding iron spikes and steel barricades to stop demonstrating farmers from entering the capital.

The latest controversy started on Tuesday, when Rihanna tweeted to her more than 101 million followers: "Why aren't we talking about this?!".

She linked to a CNN news report about India blocking internet services at the protest sites, a favoured tactic of the Modi government to stifle protests.

International condemnation from human rights groups, and outrage from supporters of Modi's party, followed.

India's foreign ministry accused "foreign individuals" and celebrities of "sensationalism".

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, and the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, Meena Harris, were among others to tweet their support, with a social-media storm quickly brewing.

Entertainers and Indian sports stars joined the chorus.

They echoed the government's stand on the agriculture laws and asked people outside India not to meddle with their country's affairs.

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a supporter of Modi's party, posted a message quoting Rihanna's tweet.

"No one is talking about it because they are not farmers, they are terrorists who are trying to divide India," she wrote.

Rihanna's and Thunberg's tweets also prompted responses from almost every senior leader of Modi's party, including Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Home Minister Amit Shah, who said that "no propaganda can deter India's unity".

But former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram took a swipe at India's foreign ministry and called its statement a "puerile reaction".

"When will you realize that people concerned with issues of human rights and livelihoods do not recognize national boundaries?", Chidambaram tweeted.