Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has condemned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaction over deadly ethnic conflict in the northeast in his first parliamentary speech since his defamation conviction was suspended.
Gandhi’s fiery address to parliament on Wednesday was part of a no-confidence debate demanding the government’s resignation for letting the unrest spread in Manipur state for months.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
“You are throwing kerosene in the whole country. You threw kerosene in Manipur and lit a spark,” Gandhi said as his supporters cheered and rival lawmakers jeered.
“You’re set on burning the whole country. You are killing Mother India,” he said.
Gandhi delivered the address after months of violence in Manipur in which at least 150 people have been killed, many hundreds more wounded and tens of thousands rendered homeless since May.
Until last month, Modi had failed to publicly address the violence in a state controlled by his own Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Soldiers have been rushed in from other parts of India to contain the violence in Manipur, and a curfew and internet shutdown remain in force across most of the state.
The clashes erupted over the BJP state government potentially extending special benefits to the mostly Hindu ethnic majority Meiteis. Those benefits have been reserved for Manipur’s minority Kuki people, who are mostly Christian.
The state government denies accusations by the Kukis and political rivals that it failed to act more forcefully to quell the trouble.
The BJP is regularly accused by opponents of fomenting divisions for electoral purposes, and India will hold a general election early next year.
The BJP has a large majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house, and is expected to comfortably defeat the no-confidence vote against Modi. His party has dismissed it as a headline-grabbing gimmick.
Government minister Smriti Irani refuted Gandhi’s allegations, saying the party was always ready to discuss the Manipur issue in parliament.
“They ran away from the discussion, not us,” Irani said.
“Rahul Gandhi said kerosene has been poured all over the country, and where all did you go to find the matchbox, Rahul Gandhi?” she asked.
He was sentenced to two years in prison in March in a case that critics flagged as an effort to stifle political opposition in the world’s largest democracy.
Gandhi is the son, grandson and great-grandson of three former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
His Indian National Congress party was once India’s dominant political force, but Gandhi has led it to two landslide defeats against the BJP and its nationalistic appeals to the country’s Hindu majority.
Gandhi and his allies are trying to stitch together a grand coalition of opposition parties ahead of next year’s elections, in which Modi will seek a third successive term.