By Rupam Jain
NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday peace was returning to the strife-torn northeastern state of Manipur where at least 180 people have been killed and tens of thousands forced from their homes in sectarian clashes since May.
The federal government has deployed security forces to the hilly state bordering Myanmar governed by Modi’s nationalist party to quell the violence, which comes as he is looking to secure a third term in a general election due by May next year.
“For some days now, we are getting reports of extended peace. The country is with the people of Manipur. The country wants the people of Manipur to hold on to the peace of the last few days and take it forward,” Modi said in an Independence Day speech from the ramparts of New Delhi’s Red Fort.
The violence between members of the majority Meitei ethnic group and minority Kuki began over competition for government benefits linked to education, jobs and influence.
Among those killed have been 21 women. Numerous incidents of rape have grabbed global attention and raised questions about the ability of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ensure security.
Modi condemned the sexual assault of women in Manipur and promised tough action but opposition parties accuse his government of dividing the state and not doing enough to end the clashes.
The government rejects those accusations and defeated an opposition vote of no-confidence motion over the handling of the conflict last Thursday.
“The state and federal governments are working very hard and will continue to work hard to resolve this peacefully,” Modi said.
Civil rights group in Manipur say thousands of people who have fled from their homes are too scared to return and the restoration of normalcy requires financial aid and legal support. Manipur state chief minister hoisted India’s tri-colour flag in the capital city of Imphal to commemorate Independence Day and there were no immediate reports of violence, officials said.
In his address, Modi listed the social, economic and pro-poor policies implemented during his nine years of rule and said his commitment to growth and making India an economic powerhouse would be sustained after securing a third term.
Leaders from Indian opposition parties’ alliance called “INDIA” said Modi’s Independence Day speech will be his last as his party will be routed in the general elections.
“Modi’s failure in last nine years can be categorised under bad policies, injustice and perhaps most importantly ill intention,” said Jairam Ramesh, a federal lawmaker from the opposition Congress party.
“Rhetoric and bluster can no longer cover up this truth which is now evident to the entire country,” he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robert Birsel and Susan Fenton)