India: Ruling coalition endorses new state

2013-07-31 12:02
Osmania University students celebrate after the announcement of the separate Indian state of Telangana in Hyderabad. (Noah Seelam, AFP)

Osmania University students celebrate after the announcement of the separate Indian state of Telangana in Hyderabad. (Noah Seelam, AFP)

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New Delhi — India's ruling coalition endorsed creating a new state in southern India, which immediately spurred activists to call for other long-standing demands for separate states to be met.

The United Progressive Alliance coalition unanimously agreed to endorse that a new state called Telangana be carved out of Andhra Pradesh state, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh told reporters on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party also backed the formation of the state. The government will finish creating the state within the next four to five months, said Digvijay Singh, a top Congress party leader.

The large size of some of India's 28 states makes them difficult to administer and has prompted movements to divide them. Telangana would become India's 29th state.

Telangana supporters say the drought-prone northern area is underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from southern Andhra Pradesh. Residents of the 10 districts that form Telangana say they are discriminated against in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs.

The decision is likely to be opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, primarily because the proposed Telangana area would include Hyderabad, the state capital and industrial hub.

Hunger strike

Police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed in Hyderabad and other parts of Andhra Pradesh to prevent protests after the announcement.

The demand for a separate state of Telangana has erupted sporadically since the 1950s, with hunger strikes and violent protests claiming about 1 000 lives over the past decade. Several protesters self-immolated to press for the creation of the state.

The protests gained strength in 2009 when veteran politician K Chandrasekhara Rao began a hunger strike. After 11 days, the federal government agreed to split the state.

The government then delayed a decision while sporadic protests, both for and against the new state, gripped Andhra Pradesh.

Critics said the split would spur other demands for new states.

"The government has opened a Pandora's box. This will give rise to similar demands from several regions that are fighting for separate states," said Kalyani Shankar, a prominent political commentator.

Several parts of India — the Bundelkhand region in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Vidarbha in western Maharashtra state and Gorkhaland in the eastern West Bengal state — face similar statehood movements, but the government has not made any moves to create states there.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Gorkhaland movement called for a three-day strike in the northern parts of West Bengal to press their demand.

"Our demand for Gorkhaland is older than the demand for Telangana. If the government announces a Telangana state, then it should also declare a Gorkhaland state," Gorkhaland leader Bimal Grung said.

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