Imphal, June 29
Ethnic strife-torn Manipur witnessed high drama on Thursday over the visit of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to relief camps in Churachandpur after his convoy was stopped by the police midway and he had to take a helicopter to reach his destination. Gandhi who interacted with those sheltering in relief camps in Churachandpur, 63 kms from Manipur’s capital Imphal, said “Manipur needs healing. Peace has to be our only priority.” The blocking of his convoy triggered a political slugfest as the Congress alleged that the BJP-led government is trying to thwart the leader’s visit, while the saffron party accused him of being “stubborn” and choosing to take the road trip even though he was advised to take a chopper as his trip was opposed by various quarters.
“People of all communities are very welcoming and loving. It’s very unfortunate that the government is stopping me,” Gandhi tweeted.
“I came to listen to all my brothers and sisters of Manipur. Manipur needs healing. Peace has to be our only priority,” he said in the Twitter post.
During his visit to Churachandpur, he interacted with the inmates in relief camps set up at a school and a college there, where around 200 people are camped.
The Congress leader, who had earlier flown into Imphal in the morning was stopped by the local police at Bishnupur, around 20 kilometres from Imphal, citing demonstrations on the way.
“There is a security threat. We cannot take the risk of allowing Rahul Gandhi to proceed,” a senior police official said.
A large number of people, mostly women, gathered near the spot and demonstrated both for and against the visit.
Gandhi’s supporters demanded that he be allowed to go to Churachandpur, referring to the visit of Union Home Minister Amit Shah there late last month.
One of the demonstrating women said, “If Amit Shah could go to Churachandpur, why not Rahul Gandhi?” The police used tear gas shells to disperse the mob.
After remaining stuck for a few hours in Bishnupur, Gandhi returned to Imphal airport and took a helicopter to go to Churachandpur, one of the worst affected towns in the ethnic rioting which broke out in the state nearly two months back.
“Rahul Gandhi took a state government-provided chopper to visit Churachandpur. Top police and administration officials accompanied him in the helicopter,” said a source at the airport.
The Congress alleged that the BJP governments at the Centre and the state are using “autocratic methods” to stall the visit of Gandhi.
The “double-engine disastrous governments are using autocratic methods to stall a compassionate outreach by Shri Rahul Gandhi. This is totally unacceptable and shatters all constitutional and democratic norms,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge tweeted.
“He is going there to meet the people suffering in relief camps and to provide a healing touch in the strife-torn state,” he said.
The party’s state president Keisham Meghachandra alleged that the order to stop Gandhi’s convoy came from Chief Minister N Biren Singh as “everyone was welcoming him”.
The BJP, however, wondered why Gandhi did not take a chopper to visit Churachandpur in the first place.
“Rahul Gandhi’s Manipur visit was vehemently opposed by many Civil Society Organisations & Student Unions in Manipur. Keeping this in mind the administration requested Rahul Gandhi to take a helicopter to Churachandpur.
“Looking into the sensitive situation to “Understand” is more important than being “Stubborn” for petty political gains,” BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
The TMC too hit out at the Centre after Gandhi’s convoy was stopped by the local police, alleging that it shows the BJP’s “desperation”.
“Modi-Shah’s BJP is desperate now. A month ago, Mamata Banerjee wrote a letter seeking permission to enter Manipur. She was not allowed. Exactly a month later, Rahul Gandhi was also denied entry. This is definitely the last 300 days of BJP government,” TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien said Police sources said tyres were burnt on the highway near Utlou village in Bishnupur district and a few stones were thrown at the convoy.
“We feared a repetition of such events and hence as a precaution, requested the convoy to halt at Bishnupur,” a police officer told PTI.
Meanwhile, one person was killed and a few others were injured when “rioters” opened firing without any provocation at Haraothel village in Kangpokpi district of Manipur on Thursday morning, leading to tension in the area.
While the local army unit tweeted that “unconfirmed reports” indicated some casualties in the incident, official sources said one body had been recovered from the area and a few others could be seen lying on the ground. Intermittent firing was still going on in the area, the official sources said.
More than 100 people have lost their lives in the ethnic violence between Meitei and Kuki communities in the northeastern state so far.
Clashes first broke out on May 3 after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals—Nagas and Kukis—constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts. PTI