Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said that India’s reputation in the international community was affected due to the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the farmers’ protest against the three agricultural laws. His comment came amid an outpouring of global support for the farmers, after a tweet by pop star Rihanna created flutter on social media.

“The reputation of India has taken a massive hit, not on how we are treating our farmers, but on how we treat our own people, how we treat journalists,” Gandhi said at the press briefing, while responding to a question about international reaction to the crackdown on the protest. “Our biggest strength, you can call it soft power, has been shattered by the BJP and RSS.”

The Congress leader asked the government why it was fortifying Delhi’s borders using multi-level barricades and barbed wires. “Delhi is surrounded by farmers today,” he said. “They give us sustenance, they work for us. Why is Delhi being converted into a fortress?”

He added: “Is the government scared of them [the farmers]? Are the farmers their enemies? Why is the government not talking to them? This situation is not good for the country.”

Gandhi said that the farmers will not end their protests. “The farmers will not back down,” he warned. “In the end, the government will have to back down. It’s better that they do it today.”

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The government has clamped down on the farmers’ protest in the aftermath of the violence during the Republic Day tractor rally. The Delhi Police has also tried block access to farmers’ protest sites at the borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh by digging ditches, driving nails into roads and topping concrete barricades with razor wire.

Heavy security has been deployed at the three protest sites Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also ordered the shutdown of internet services in the three border areas since Saturday, while the Haryana government has cut off connectivity in seven districts at least until Wednesday evening. Several Opposition leaders have criticised the Centre for its crackdown on the peaceful protests.

Farmers have been camping at Delhi’s border points for over two months. They fear that the government’s move to introduce market reforms will leave them at the mercy of corporations. The protestors remain firm on their demand for the repeal of the farming laws.

Rahul Gandhi on defence budget

The Congress leader also hit out the government for its inadequate response to Chinese aggression. He raised questions about the Centre’s decision to not increase defence budget.

“What message did Indian government give to China by not increasing defense budget, that China can come inside Indian territory, do whatever, that you will not support Indian army? he asked. “How will our soldiers in Ladakh, our Airforce pilots feel today?”

According to the 2021-’22 Union Budget documents presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Parliament on Monday, the allocation for the defence services was increased to Rs 4.78 lakh crore compared to Rs 4.71 lakh crore in the 2020-’21 budget, PTI reported. This was a marginal hike of around 1.4%.

“What kind of patriotism is it that our Army is braving the cold in Ladakh and you are not giving them enough resources,” Gandhi asked. “What kind of nationalism is this?”

The Congress leader also said he expected the annual Budget to support “99% people of India”, but it is only for the 1% of the population of the country.