Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, has arrived in Manipur for a two-day visit to provide what he has described as a “healing” touch as two months of violence spilled into neighbouring states.

The party has accused the government of prime minister, Narendra Modi, of abject failure over the crisis, which has claimed more than 100 lives and displaced thousands since clashes broke out in early May between members of the Kuki ethnic group, who mostly live in Manipur’s hills, and the Meitei people, the dominant community in the lowlands.

Modi has not visited the state, located in the north-east on the border with Myanmar, since the violence began. His home minister, Amit Shah, has been once but failed to make any headway in reducing tensions.

Gandhi will meet representatives of the Meitei and the Kuki, members of the civil society groups and some of the 35,000 people still living in relief camps after abandoning their homes during mob violence. “Rahul is going to Manipur with the message of love,” Congress tweeted.

KC Venugopal, a senior figure in Congress, said the two days would be spent trying to provide some solace for victims of the violence. “Manipur has been burning for nearly two months and desperately needs a healing touch so that society can move from conflict to peace,” Venugopal tweeted. “This is a humanitarian tragedy and it is our responsibility to be a force of love, not hate.”

Clashes between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe, were caused by resentment among Kukis towards Meitei demands for access to economic benefits and quotas in government jobs and education reserved for hill people.

The Kukis believe that the Meitei do not need quotas because they are the majority, dominate the state government, and mostly live in the capital, Imphal, which is much more developed than the hill areas.

The humanitarian crisis has spread to neighbouring states, especially Mizoram, which has received 12,000 people fleeing for their safety.

They have been fed and housed thanks in part to the church and voluntary groups because, despite the Mizoram government’s request for funds, the Delhi government has not provided any financial assistance. The Mizoram chief minister, Zoramthanga (who goes by only one name), has said funds are urgently needed, particularly since people are continuing to arrive from Manipur.

“So many children have been admitted to schools in Mizoram, healthcare facilities are being provided, food is being provided. We are doing our best to provide for them despite our shoestring budget,” he said.

During two months of violence and deepening mistrust, the Kukis have said they have no faith that the state government, which is ruled by a chief minister who is a Meitei, can be impartial. Many of them are demanding a separate homeland.

Some observers have even warned that civil war is a possibility unless the national government can bring about – if not a reconciliation which seems unlikely – some sort of agreement between the two groups that will allow them to live together peacefully.


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