Tear gas was fired near the convoy of Indian opposition and Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, who was stopped by police as he was on his way to visit the conflict-hit northeastern Manipur state.
At least 100 people have been killed in ethnic clashes and violence in Manipur since last month, as thousands of homes have been burned and shops and businesses vandalised. Authorities have moved nearly 40,000 people to safer places.
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Gandhi was travelling on Thursday to Churachandpur district, one of the worst affected areas in the violence, when security forces stopped his convoy at Bishnupur, about 20km (12.4 miles) from the capital Imphal, citing security fears.
Tear gas shells were then fired to disperse a crowd that had started gathering in the area.
“Seeing the ground situation, we stopped him from moving forward and advised him to travel to Churachandpur via helicopter,” Bishnupur police chief Heisnam Balram Singh told Reuters TV partner ANI.
“There is a possibility of a grenade attack along the highway through which Rahul Gandhi is moving. Keeping his security and safety in mind, we’ve not allowed him.”
The 53-year-old Gandhi’s convoy returned to Imphal and he reached Churachandpur by helicopter, said Keisham Meghachandra Singh, Manipur state Congress president.
Earlier this month, Junior Foreign Minister R K Ranjan Singh’s office was set on fire and vandalised in Imphal. Singh is a federal minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which is the ruling party in the violence-hit state.
The violence started last month after protests by more than 50,000 Kukis and members of other predominantly Christian tribal communities in Churachandpur and adjoining districts in Manipur.
They oppose the majority Meitei Hindu community’s demand for a special status that would give it benefits, including the right to farm on forested land, cheap bank loans, health and educational facilities, and a specific quota of government jobs.
The Kuki leaders say the Meitei Hindu community is comparatively well-off and that granting them more privileges would be unfair. The Meitei Hindus say employment quotas and other benefits for the Kuki tribespeople would be protected.
As per India’s last census conducted in 2011, the Meitis constitute about half of Manipur’s population of 3.5 million, and are largely based in and around Imphal.
Meanwhile, the Kukis form around 40 percent of the state’s population – along with another major tribe, the Nagas, and mostly live in the hills. They enjoy Scheduled Tribe status in India, a constitutional provision that protects the rights and livelihoods of some of the country’s Indigenous communities.
Several rounds of peace talks between the groups have broken down and failed to completely stop violent incidents in the state.