01/16/2024, 15.22
INDIA
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Rahul Gandhi's march for unity and justice begins in violence-affected Manipur

As the spring election approaches, the Congress leader launched his march in places turned into combat zones between ethnic Kuki and Meitei following the outbreak of violence last May. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the northeastern state, is accused of not doing enough to end the violence.

Imphal (AsiaNews) – Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi launched a new India Justice and Unity March (Hindi: Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra) on Sunday, 14 January, in Manipur.

“We understand the pain that the people of Manipur have been through,” Gandhi said in his address to the people of the northeastern Indian state. “Manipur has lost what it valued the most because of the politics of the BJP-RSS and the hatred they instil,” he added.

This march follows one that took place in late 2022 and the start of 2023, and is undertaken by the country’s main opposition party ahead of parliamentary elections set for this spring.

It is significant that the event began in Manipur, where serious interethnic violence broke out in May last year between the Kuki and Meitei communities.

Opposition parties immediately accused Prime Minister Narendra Mody’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of fuelling tensions with its propaganda and failing to resolve the crisis. The BJP controls both the federal (union) government and the local state administration.

RSS refers to a far-right paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of which Modi was once a member when he was a young man.

Fresh incidents of violence broke out recently in Manipur. In the district of Bishnupur, the bodies of four Meitei men were found; they had just gone out to collect wood.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, about 200 people have lost their lives with almost 67,000 forced to flee their homes.

Reacting to crisis, the state government, led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, recently blamed "foreign mercenaries" from Myanmar (where a brutal civil war is underway) for attacking local security forces, a claim later dismissed by the Indian government.

Meanwhile, a report released earlier this month by Top10VPN, an independent VPN review website, noted that Manipur saw the longest internet shutdown of 2023 following the outbreak of violence.

“We will bring back the harmony, peace & affection that Manipur has always been known for,” wrote Gandhi on X (former twitter). The Congress leader also criticised Prime Minister Modi for not visiting Manipur for eight months.

“People are asking us why PM Modi has not visited Manipur. Everyone wants Rahul Gandhi to raise this issue in parliament and ask the PM to come to Manipur and meet the people,” said Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretary in-charge of communications, publicity, and media.

“You can see how many people have gathered here. Rahul ji listened to the pain of those who are not able to go to school and colleges and those who are still in relief camps,” he added.

Thousands of people from different parts of the state crowded the sidewalks along National Highway 2, the road that connects the state capital Imphal to the city of Moreh.

At the height of the violence, some surrounding areas became battlefields.

“I understand that you have been through. You have lost family members; you have lost property,” Rahul Gandhi said in one of his roadside public addresses. “I want you to understand that we are fully with you and want to bring peace to Manipur,” he added.

Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated in 1991, after which, his wife, Sonia, took over the party leadership.

The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra will cover 6,713 kilometres and run through 15 states and 110 districts, ending in Mumbai on 20-21 March.

During the yatra (march), Rahul Gandhi will also visit four other northeastern states – Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Assam, which are mostly home to religious minorities and tribal groups.

For the Congress leader, the aim of the march is to respond to the injustices experienced by certain segments of the population.

For this reason, he asked, “why the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra?” His answer: “It is because we are going through a period of great injustice in India. It is of all kinds - social, political, and economic”.

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