Boris Johnson has been labelled “absolutely clueless” after a parliamentary gaffe where he appeared to confuse massive farmers’ protests that have closed down swathes of India with the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan.
Sikh Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi addressed Johnson during prime minister’s questions, asking for him to comment on the demonstrations in India, which have seen tens of thousands of farmers camped out around Delhi in protest at new agriculture laws that they say will destroy their livelihoods.
“Many constituents, especially those emanating from Punjab and other parts of India, and I were horrified to see footage of water cannons, teargas and brute force being used against peacefully protesting farmers,” said Dhesi.
Addressing Johnson, Dhesi asked: “So, will the prime minister convey to the Indian prime minister our heartfelt anxieties, our hopes for a speedy resolution to the current deadlock, and does he agree that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest?”
However, Johnson appeared confused over the protests that Dhesi was referring to and responded: “Our view is that of course we have serious concerns about what is happening between India and Pakistan but these are pre-eminently matters for those two governments to settle.”
Dhesi, who has been vocal supporter of the farmers and initiated a letter pledging support for the protests signed by 35 other MPs, looked perplexed at Johnson’s response. He later took to Twitter to criticise the prime minister. “It might help if our PM actually knew what he was talking about,” he wrote.
Johnson’s response prompted both mirth and anger in India, with many frustrated that Pakistan had been mentioned when they have no role in the protests.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, general counsel for seccessionist group Sikhs for Justice, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the prime minister confused the current farmers’ protest with the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. People’s lives are at risk here, and the PM must pay attention to the severity of the situation in Punjab, where brute force and teargas are being used by the Indian authorities against farmers protesting peacefully.”
The UK government has so far refused to be drawn into the ongoing protests in India, with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office saying the matter was an internal one. “The police handling of protests is a matter for the government of India,” said an FCDO spokesperson last week.