Indian opposition MPs walked out of parliament last Thursday during a bitter no-confidence debate on PM Narendra Modi, which sought unsuccessfully to hold him to account for a bitter sectarian conflict in the north-eastern state of Manipur. To date, some 160 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced in intercommunal violence in the state which Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) governs.
Modi barely addressed the issue in his two-hour speech, the bulk of which was an attack on the Congress Party, a rehearsal, it seemed, for the 2024 election, when the BJP will be seeking a third term against a united front of opposition parties. He comfortably defeated the motion. Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, who regained his seat this week after India’s Supreme Court suspended a defamation conviction against him, led a walk-out as Modi spoke.
The simmering violence in Manipur drew national attention and calls for government action when a video showing two women being paraded naked through the streets during a sexual assault in May came to light. The state has a long history of ethnic animosities but the fuse for the current unrest has been kindled by the BJP politics of Hindu supremacy, xenophobia and religious hatred, which are polarising this vast country.
The targeting of minorities – particularly Muslims – by right-wing Hindu extremists is now commonplace in many states. In Manipur the Kuki minority, mainly Christians who populate the hill districts, are bearing the brunt as the BJP government stokes the insecurities of the majority, who are predominantly Hindu Meitei. The Kuki are branded as interlopers from neighbouring Myanmar and blamed for poppy cultivation. Meitei militias have gone on a rampage of raping, pillaging, looting police armouries and burning villages.
Modi’s critics complain that he has failed to address the conflict, which many residents now describe as a civil war, and that his government has enabled Hindu fanatics by undermining parliamentary accountability and cowing the press.