Stopped from travelling by road, Rahul Gandhi flies to violence-hit Manipur district

Police say Mr. Gandhi was stopped for his own safety; Congress says crowds were waiting by the roadside to welcome him; BJP says “arrogant” Congress leader showed “highly irresponsible behaviour”

June 29, 2023 12:13 pm | Updated June 30, 2023 10:25 am IST - Imphal

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi meeting the families which were affected by the Manipur riots, at Ideal Girls Colleg in Imphal on Thursday, June 29, 2023. 

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi meeting the families which were affected by the Manipur riots, at Ideal Girls Colleg in Imphal on Thursday, June 29, 2023.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Allegedly stopped by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh from travelling by road, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took the aerial route to violence-scarred Manipur’s Churachandpur, a Kuki-dominated hill district, on Thursday afternoon. 

He visited two Kuki relief camps – one in Tuibuong and the other in Hiangtam – and interacted with the victims and leaders of some civil society organisations after reaching his destination, hours behind schedule, by a chopper from the State’s capital Imphal. Manipur Congress leaders said that Mr. Gandhi had to rush through his programmes after landing at 4:10 pm as he was allowed time up to 5 p.m. 

Mr. Gandhi also visited a major relief camp in Imphal housing displaced Meiteis Thursday evening and took feedback from the inmates.

Manipur Congress leaders said Mr Gandhi had to rush through his programmes after landing at 4:10 pm as he was allowed time up to 5 p.m. 

“I came to Manipur to listen to and understand what has happened and to try and bring back peace,” Mr. Gandhi said, after visiting two relief camps housing Kuki people displaced from the Imphal Valley. 

After he arrived arrived at Imphal on June 29, 2023 for a two-day visit to violence-hit Manipur, the police stopped Rahul Gandhi’s convoy in Bishnupur when he was on his way to Churachandpur district to visit relief camps. Photo: Twitter/@INCIndia

After he arrived arrived at Imphal on June 29, 2023 for a two-day visit to violence-hit Manipur, the police stopped Rahul Gandhi’s convoy in Bishnupur when he was on his way to Churachandpur district to visit relief camps. Photo: Twitter/@INCIndia

Tribal separation demand

Churachandpur, dominated by the Kukis and associated tribes, has been one of the worst-hit districts since the ongoing ethnic clashes between the Kukis and the majority Meiteis broke out on May 3, killing more than 130 people and displacing over 60,000. 

“You are going through a very difficult time. My full affection and my heart and ears are with you and all the people of Manipur. If you have any issues at the camp, please let me know. You have given me a memorandum. But if you have any other issues, we will send our people here,” Mr. Gandhi said. 

Also Read |Manipur, a rude reminder of northeast tensions 

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), an apex body of the Kukis and associated tribes, submitted a memorandum to Mr. Gandhi, seeking his help for the total separation of the tribal people from Manipur. The BJP-led Manipur government has rejected any demand that compromises the State’s territorial integrity. 

Safety concerns

Mr. Gandhi reached Imphal at around 11 a.m. and set off for Churachandpur, 64 km away, in a convoy of vehicles along with K.C. Venugopal and other party leaders. The convoy was stopped almost midway by the Bishnupur district authorities, citing the prevailing law-and-order situation. The Congress leader decided to take a helicopter to reach his destination, after the police fired tear gas shells to disperse a large crowd that had gathered around.

Bishnupur Superintendent of Police Heisnam Balram Singh said that Mr. Gandhi and other Congress leaders, including some MLAs, were stopped for their own safety. “Shots are being fired from the hills for the past month. The possibility of a bomb blast on the highway was also not ruled out. There are miscreants on both sides and they may highlight their grievances by attacking VIPs. So, we stopped the convoy,” he said.

A Manipur government spokesperson said that the police had to deal with protestors who did not want the Congress leader to proceed to Churachandpur, “renamed” Lamka by the Kukis.

‘Crowds waiting for Rahul’

But local Congress leaders said the people were party supporters who wanted Mr. Gandhi to help end the bad blood between two warring communities.  

State Congress president K. Meghachandra accused the Chief Minister of directing the Bishnupur district authorities to “totally block” Mr Gandhi’s convoy. “We spoke to the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police but to no avail. A lot of people were standing by the roadside to welcome Rahulji, who came to meet the violence-affected families in the hills as well as the Imphal Valley,” he said. 

Congress general secretary and Rajya Sabha member, K.C. Venugopal, who accompanied Mr. Gandhi, indicated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tried to prevent them from proceeding to Churachandpur. “It is unfortunate that the PM is against love and harmony and stopping our convoy in multiple places. The only thing Manipur needs right now is a lasting solution for peace to hold,” he tweeted. 

“Rahul Gandhiji’s visit must be seen in that context, where he is reaching out to people yearning for a leader who listens to them and shares their pain. Across communities, we have received warmth and affection, because they see Rahulji as a ray of hope,” he added. 

Manipur Congress president K. Meghachandra accused Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh of directing the Bishnupur district authorities to “totally block” Mr. Gandhi’s convoy. “We spoke to the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police but to no avail. A lot of people were standing by the roadside to welcome Rahulji, who came to meet the violence-affected families in the hills as well as the Imphal Valley,” he said.

‘Arrogant and irresponsible’

However, the BJP slammed Mr. Gandhi for his “arrogance” and for ignoring the State government’s advice to not travel by road to Churachandpur. Party spokesperson Sambit Patra said Mr. Gandhi’s convoy was stopped when there was a massive protest with people aggressively telling the Congress leader to “go back”.

“Rahulji did not listen to the government, which wanted to ensure his safety. Had he gone to Churachandpur by helicopter in the morning, the situation [in Bishnupur district en route] would not have turned tense again,” he said.

Mr. Patra said the Congress leader should have been more sensitive towards the Manipur situation instead of showing “highly irresponsible behaviour” as there was no major violence in the State from June 13. “But a person lost his life this [Thursday] morning,” he added, referring to an incident in Kangpokpi district. 

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