Activists jailed for releasing black balloons near Indian PM Modi’s chopper

Activists jailed for releasing black balloons near Indian PM Modi’s chopper

Four workers belonging to India’s opposition Congress party were arrested for releasing dozens of black balloons in the direction of a helicopter carrying prime minister Narendra Modi as part of a protest.

The incident happened on Monday minutes after the helicopter took off from the Vijaywada International Airport in the southern Andhra Pradesh state.

Even though police officials denied reports of a potential security breach as claimed by workers of Mr Modi’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state’s top police official said the arrests were made because “they wanted to release the balloons”.

The black balloons were released around five minutes after Mr Modi’s helicopter took off.

Police said a strict security cordon was set up around the airport and that an investigation was being launched into the incident.

Protesting Congress workers had raised slogans during a demonstration near the airport.

Visuals from the spot showed men releasing sets of black balloons from the top of an under-construction building as two choppers, including one carrying Mr Modi, began to fly.

One of the videos of the incident showed the balloons gaining altitude and seemingly flying alongside the choppers.

“A total of four Congress workers have been arrested in connection with the matter. Few more people are yet to be arrested,” said Vijay Pal, a top police official from the Krishna district, where the airport is located.

He added that the four workers of the opposition party will be produced before court.

Two of the Congress members have been identified as Rajeev Ratan and Ravi Prakash, reported The Indian Express.

The state’s police officials had booked three Congress activists, identified as Sunkarna Padmasri, Parvathi and Kishore, for approaching the airport with black balloons, the report added.

Ms Padmasri was granted bail early on Tuesday.

The Congress, along with workers of a party comprising the minority Madiga community, had called for protests in the state during Mr Modi’s visit for not granting a special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

KV Rajendranath Reddy, the state’s senior-most police official, said the arrests were made because “they wanted to release the balloons” and that “they also wanted to protest”.

“Earlier in the morning, we had taken into preventive custody Mahila Congress chief Sunkarna Padmasri and several Congress workers from near the airport as they wanted to release the balloons,” he said.

“We also detained some Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti activists as they also wanted to protest,” he added.

Mr Modi had reached the southern state from Hyderabad around 8.30am on Monday to attend the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Indian freedom fighter Alluri Sitarama Raju where he participated in state functions.

He met the state’s chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan, who accompanied the prime minister in the other chopper.