Indian police on Friday stopped opposition leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from visiting a village where 10 tribal people were gunned down this week over a land dispute, officials said, fuelling political divisions.
In an altercation on Wednesday, a village headman and his supporters allegedly shot at a group of tribal people who were working a piece of disputed agricultural land in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and divisions based on the ancient caste system are pronounced, especially in rural areas. Tribal people are perceived to form the bottom rung of that system.
Police have arrested 27 people, including the village headman, but opposition groups said the shooting was the latest sign of deteriorating security in the state governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
Priyanka - she is usually referred to by just her first name - is the sister of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and is a party general secretary.
She was leading a group of supporters to the village of a few hundred people when police blocked their cars, saying they could inflame tension.
But Priyanka said she was only going to commiserate with the families of the victims and state authorities were trying to cover up their failure to prevent the violence.
She said that police had been warned of a brewing conflict between the headman and tribal people who had been farming on the land for generations.
“The police were called during the altercation but no help came,” she said. “Where is the law and order system in this state?
Uttar Pradesh, led by firebrand Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, has been in the spotlight for incidents of lynching over the slaughter of cows, attacks on journalists and a general rise in crime, opposition leaders say.
“There is jungle rule in UP,” said Tej Narain Pandey, a state legislator.
Police said the village headman and his supporters arrived at the disputed tract of land with guns.
Nine people were killed at the site and one died later in hospital.
The Congress, badly beaten by Modi in an election this year, is trying to find ways to make a political comeback.
The party criticized state authorities.
“Instead of reaching out to the families of the victims, the government is trying to prevent opposition leaders only to hide the truth from the public,” Congress said in a statement.