Farmers protesting the agriculture laws will not back down and it is in the government's interest to relent, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said Tuesday, amid renewed support for those fighting to repeal the laws, particularly after emotional appeals from Bharatiya Kisan Union (Arajnaitik) chief Rakesh Tikait and a six-word tweet from international pop star Rihanna.
Mr Gandhi also criticised the government over disturbing images of farmer protest sites along the Delhi border being turned into "fortresses", complete with barbed wire, concrete walls, row upon row of metal barricades and large groups of police and paramilitary forces standing guard.
"As far as I know the farmers... they will not back down. They will continue with their protests. In the end it is the government that will have to back down, and better they do that today. This situation is not good at all for the country," Mr Gandhi told reporters this afternoon.
"Yes, India's image has taken a huge beating... not just in the way our farmers are being treated, but the way in which our citizens, our journalists are being treated. India's soft power has been damaged by this government," he said, although he did not specifically refer to Rihanna's tweet.
The government has dismissed the tweet by the award-winning singer-businesswoman, who has over 100 million followers on Twitter, as "sensationalist".
"Where is the confusion? There is only one issue - repeal the farm laws," Mr Gandhi added, as he urged the government to address farmers' concerns instead of threatening them.
Mr Gandhi has been particularly vocal on this subject over the past few days.
On Monday he hit out at the government for ordering Twitter to shut down some 250 accounts tweeting, or retweeting, with the #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag.
Modi style of governance-— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 2, 2021
Shut them up
Cut them off
Crush them down. pic.twitter.com/Rdi0A8ftgp
Hours before that he tweeted on "fortresses" at protest sites, saying: "Build bridges, not walls."
GOI,— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 2, 2021
Build bridges, not walls! pic.twitter.com/C7gXKsUJAi
Lakhs of farmers across India are determined to see these laws rolled back. They say these laws will endanger their livelihoods by, among other things, allowing corporates to exploit them.
The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and has refused to scrap them.
They have, however, offered amendments or a temporary stay (one has already been ordered by the Supreme Court), but the farmers are not interested.
Tension between the two sides has spiked since violence on Republic Day last week, in which one farmer died, over 200 police personnel were injured and more than 120 people arrested.
Since then the farmers have pointed to the increased fortification of protest sites - which Delhi Police said was a response to the tractor rally violence - the denial of basic services like drinking water and suspension of internet access as "attacks".
"It appears that the government is extremely fearful of the rising tide of support for the ongoing protest from different states of India," a statement from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha said.
Cases have also been filed against journalists, activists and politicians, including the Congress' Shashi Tharoor, for social media posts about the farmers' protest.