Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said all Indian citizens should enjoy equal space irrespective of their State, caste or religion and accused the Opposition of dividing the country.

Launching his election campaign in the north-eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, Mr. Gandhi said (big) States such as Uttar Pradesh and (small States like) Meghalaya should be treated equally.

Addressing a rally in the Tura Lok Sabha constituency, the bastion of former Lok Sabha Speaker and National People’s Party (NPP) chief Purno Agitok Sangma, Mr. Gandhi said the reason behind the killing of Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death in Delhi, was people’s ignorance of India’s diversity. He said the Congress wanted to remove the ignorance that led to the killing of Nido.

“This is the central difference between the Congress and our Opposition parties. The Opposition party feels that India is a place of one idea while the Congress believes it is a country of millions and millions of ideas,” said Mr. Gandhi in his nearly 15 minute-long speech, which was interpreted into the Garo language by Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma.

Mr. Gandhi said the people from Meghalaya should feel at home everywhere in the country. He introduced Daryl William C. Momin, the grandson of founder Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson A. Sangma, as the Congress candidate from Tura. The 28-year-old Congress candidate will take on P.A. Sangma, who has decided to end his retirement from national politics and contest elections again.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Mr. Sangma’s daughter, Agatha Sangma, won from this constituency on a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ticket, defeating her nearest Congress rival, Debora C. Marak.

Mr. Gandhi claimed that his party kept its promises of improving connectivity in Meghalaya. “Now there is direct road connectivity between Tura and Shillong. North Garo Hills is going to be connected by railway line from April 1,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Gandhi addressed a rally in Hapoli in Arunachal where he accused the BJP of practising “divisive” politics and spoiling the country’s secular fabric. “The Opposition wants to divide the people on political and religious lines, but we want to surge ahead for peace, progress and prosperity of people irrespective of their region,” he said.

Rahul said Nido Tania was killed because of ill feelings nursed against the people of the northeast by the people of “mainland India”. “Arunachal Pradesh being a part of India, its people should enjoy equal privileges in every State of the country,” he said and expressed his desire to settle in Hapoli after his retirement.

(Inputs from PTI)