ONE of the country’s most celebrated chefs is urging Scots to get behind Indian farmers amidst an agriculture row threatening some of the country’s poorest producers.

Tony Singh’s culinary prowess has won him TV fame, critical acclaim and an MBE.

The Leith-born master chef worked in some of the UK’s most exclusive eateries – including Skibo Castle and the Balmoral Hotel – before setting up his own award-winning Oloroso restaurant in Edinburgh and a string of other operations, cookbooks and food shows.

He’s now backing the kisaan, or farmer, movement that’s closed roads around India and drawn international interest.

More than 250 million workers in India went out on strike in protest at reforms to the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. A safety net had been in place for decades to protect the agriculture sector and control prices but the changes will now allow private buyers to stockpile essential commodities for future sale and set out roles for contract farming, with planting and output tailored to suit the demands of a specific buyer.

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While most farmers currently sell most of their crop at government-controlled whole markets, where assured floor prices are in place, they’ll now be permitted to sell directly to corporate buyers like supermarket chains at market price.

Indian authorities say the changes will be good for farmers but critics fear income protections are being removed and growers will now be at the mercy of big business.

Eight opposition members of parliament were suspended when the rule changes were passed in September and roadblocks and other protests have sometimes led to clashes with police.

Paramilitaries have also been deployed against tractor and foot convoys and images of the tear-gassing of elderly farmers were seen worldwide, sparking action from the Indian diaspora.

This includes a rally to the Indian Consulate in Edinburgh last weekend, organised by the Scottish Sikh community.

Singh, himself a Sikh, did not attend that protest due to family members shielding from Covid-19.

However, he’s given his full support to the movement and urged Scots to pay attention to what’s happening.

He told the Sunday National: “It doesn’t matter if it’s India or Peru or Scotland, we all have to look after the people who sustain us.

“These people are the custodians of Mother Earth. They look after the land, the look after us. The way they are being treated is horrendous.”

Singh, who has relatives in Delhi, where much of the protest has centred, hit out at claims reported in the Indian media that the demonstrating farmers are “terrorists” seeking to set up a separate Sikh state.

He said: “It’s ridiculous, it’s smoke and mirrors. It’s about dividing people.

“This is the weakest part of society, mainly subsistence farmers.

“The strength of feeling amongst the Sikh community and other Indian communities in the UK is very strongly in favour of the farmers.”

But while thousands have attended protests in London, Birmingham and Edinburgh, Singh says Prime Minister Boris Johnson has failed to address that concern.

He’ll visit India in January to “build a closer relationship” with the “key strategic partner”, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab this week held talks over a 10-year “road map for a new era in the UK-India relationship”, including an enhanced trade partnership aimed at boosting bilateral trade and investment from its current level of almost £24 billion.

Johnson was questioned about the kisaan matter in the Commons by Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who raised the concerns of “horrified” constituents and asked: “Will the Prime Minister convey to the Indian prime minister our heartfelt anxieties and our hopes for a speedy resolution to the current deadlock?

“Does he agree that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest?”

Responding, Johnson – a former foreign secretary – said his government has “serious concerns about what is happening between India and Pakistan but these are pre-eminently matters for those two governments to settle”.

However, the matter does not involve Pakistan and Singh criticised Johnson’s handling of the issue, saying: “The Prime Minister made a stupid comment.

“It’s nothing to do with territory. The British Government is going to India for trade talks. Will we do a deal at any cost?”