India Faces Backlash Over a New StateDecember 12, 2009
PKKH: This is the begining of destruction of India, Inshallah!
India’s governing Congress Party faced an angry backlash on Friday against the possibility of dividing one of the country’s largest states, Andhra Pradesh, with opponents staging protests in southern India even as advocates for creating other new states began agitating elsewhere in the country.
The police tried to break up a tussle between lawyers in support of a Telangana state, left, and those against it Friday outside the court in Hyderabad, India.The political crisis has dominated the news in India this week, as Congress Party leaders in New Delhi agreed late Wednesday night to start the process of creating a new state out of the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. National leaders made the decision in response to a 10-day “fast unto death” by an advocate for Telangana statehood that had evolved into a national melodrama.
But even as Telangana supporters were rejoicing, the crisis quickly shifted in the opposite direction, as opponents of the proposed partition protested in other regions of Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, 130 members of the 294-member State Assembly tendered their resignations. In much of the southern and coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh, daily life came to a standstill on Friday as general strikes were called to protest dividing the state.
“All the leaders and others are sitting in the town’s main square to oppose the division of the state,” said a journalist in the Anantapur district of the southern part of the state. The situation presented the Congress Party with a dilemma of its own making. The party’s high command in New Delhi had agreed to start the process of creating the new state as a concession to end the hunger strike by K.Chandrasekhar Rao, a regional political figure. Mr. Rao’s fast had led to student demonstrations in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and a two-day general strike that almost completely shut the city down.
But the late-night concession by leaders in New Delhi apparently caught Congress Party lawmakers in Andhra Pradesh unawares. The state is divided into three distinct regions, and many lawmakers from the two regions outside Telangana found themselves pinned between a decision made in New Delhi and angry constituents at home.
“I am sandwiched between my supporters and my high command,” said J. C. Diwakar Reddy, a six-term Congress Party assemblyman from the Anantapur district. “In that situation, I just submitted my resignation. My main grievance is that we were not consulted before they made this decision.”
Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, speaker of the State Assembly, confirmed that 130 members had resigned, including 76 from the Congress Party, though none of the resignations had been accepted. “I am consulting constitutional experts on the issue,” the speaker said. “I will also call them one by one. There is no time limit for me to accept these resignations.”
In New Delhi, Congress leaders seemed to backpedal slightly. The Indian news media quoted unidentified officials as saying that a “broad consensus” would be necessary for the statehood movement to proceed. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a delegation of Congress Party lawmakers from Andhra Pradesh on Friday that “nothing would be done in haste,” according to one person who attended the meeting. In Andhra Pradesh, Konijeti Rosaiah, the state’s chief minister and a member of the Congress Party, tried to play down the situation by telling local journalists that no oral or written commitment had been made. He also beseeched all political parties to demand that their supporters abjure from any violence on the streets.
“We have to be peaceful,” Mr. Rosaiah said during an appearance before the State Assembly. “Political parties should take responsibility that protests are peaceful.” The architecture of India’s political system has been evolving since the country became independent in 1947. Initially, leaders used linguistic divisions to carve out large states, but as the country has continued to grow, new states have been gradually added in response to different claims. Three new states were added in 2000, bringing the total to 28 states and 7 territories controlled by the national government. Even now, some Indian states — notably Uttar Pradesh, with more than 160 million people — are larger than most countries.
Andhra Pradesh itself has more than 77 million people and stretches over a huge swath of land along the country’s southeastern coast. It was born from a political shotgun marriage in 1956, as leaders in New Delhi merged the coastal regions with the interior region of Telangana, which also included the city of Hyderabad. The arrangement was conditional to ease the fears of discrimination or exploitation by people from the Telangana region, who were outnumbered in the new state.
But in the decades that followed, Telangana advocates say the promises of equitable treatment were never fulfilled. Riots broke out over the issue in 1969, and a statehood movement simmered for decades until it finally exploded this week during Mr. Rao’s hunger strike. Indian news media reported that advocates for statehood in other regions also had started agitating. The reports included accounts of some people beginning new hunger strikes.
Creating a state can be a lengthy undertaking here. In Andhra Pradesh the process is supposed to start with a vote on a resolution for statehood by the State Assembly, though the resignations make this uncertain.