NEW DELHI - Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday mounted a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of the deadly ethnic conflict in Manipur, saying his government had divided the remote northeastern state, broken it and burnt it.
More than 180 people have been killed, many hundreds more wounded and tens of thousands rendered homeless in Manipur since May, but Modi failed to publicly address the violence until last month in a state controlled by his own Hindu nationalist party.
Addressing parliament for the first time since his reinstatement on Monday as a lawmaker, Gandhi poured scorn on what he called the divisive policies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during a debate on a no-trust vote against Modi's government.
"You have killed mother India in Manipur," Gandhi said as opposition lawmakers thumped their desks and their government counterparts booed him.
"You have divided it, broken it," said Gandhi, who was disqualified from parliament in March after he was convicted for defamation until the Supreme Court last week suspended the conviction, allowing him to be reinstated.
The no-trust vote is not expected to impact the stability or the popularity of Modi's government as it enjoys a strong majority and is expected to win a third term in a general election next year.
However, it hopes to draw out Modi to speak in detail and embarrass him over the violence that has led the United States and the European parliament to express concern.
The three-day debate and vote which began Tuesday also come a month before Modi hosts G20 leaders for the annual summit in New Delhi, where he aims to showcase India’s leadership of the Global South.
VISIT TO MANIPUR
Gandhi, who spoke in Hindi, said the Indian army could bring peace to Manipur in one day but is not being used, "because you want to kill India in Manipur", addressing the government side.
New Delhi has rushed tens of thousands of additional security forces to the state of 3.2 million people but sporadic violence continues.
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 minority, mostly Christian, Kuki tribals in the state.
The state government denies accusations by the Kukis and political rivals that it failed to act more forcefully to quell the trouble.
Gandhi, scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, recalled his visit to Manipur in June and his experiences of meeting women in relief camps there, something, he said, "our prime minister has not done so far".
"Our prime minister has not gone to Manipur because for him Manipur is not in India," Gandhi said.
"You are pouring kerosene over the entire country. You threw kerosene in Manipur and lit a spark, now you are doing that in Haryana, you are burning the entire country," he said, referring to Hindu-Muslim clashes in the northern state of Haryana last week in which seven people have been killed.
BJP-ruled Haryana, on the fringes of New Delhi, has blamed the violence on Muslim mobs attacking a Hindu religious procession and called it a larger conspiracy.
Modi was not present in parliament when Gandhi spoke but he is due to address it on Thursday before it is put to vote.
Modi had not made any public comments about the conflict until last month when videos showing women being paraded naked and molested in Manipur surfaced and sparked national outrage.
He called the assault of women "shameful" and that his heart was filled with pain and anger and promised tough action.
(Reporting by YP Rajesh; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)