Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy appealed to Telangana activists on Tuesday to call off an eight-day-old general strike that has taken public transport off the roads, shut schools and colleges, and disrupted power supply.
He said the campaign will not sway the Centre’s approach in dealing with the region’s demand for separate statehood.
Reddy’s televised appeal came a short while after Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhara Rao likened the campaign to a war of independence, telling a public meeting in Hyderabad that people of the region had no option but to press on with the agitation.
KCR, as the politician is known, is contemplating another fast-unto-death, reported the Telugu-language newspaper Namasthe Telangaana that he publishes. In December 2009, Rao called off an 11-day hunger strike after the Centre promised to initiate moves towards the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The Centre later said more consultations were needed.
The chief minister said the strike which started on 13 September will have no influence on what the Congress-led Union government decides to do to resolve the matter. The state government has no say over the issue, he said.
Speaking in Telugu at a news conference where he took no questions after reading out his public appeal, Reddy said the Centre will take a decision only after consulting all political parties in Andhra Pradesh and reaching a consensus.
The strike is only harming ordinary people—especially the poor—by disrupting welfare programmes and public amenities, he said, adding: “Please keep the people’s interests in mind and call off the strike.”
The strike is the latest in a series of protests organized this year by the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), which includes the TRS and other organizations fighting for the region’s separation from Andhra Pradesh, to force the Centre to introduce a parliamentary resolution that would pave the way for a separate state, or at the very least, set a time frame for this.
Three million schoolchildren have been affected by schools shutting down as a result of the strike, Reddy said, while 10,000 of the 22,000 state buses that ply across Andhra Pradesh have been grounded in Telangana. The state is purchasing 500 megawatts (MW) of power from Central utilities and another 500MW from other states, he said.
Electricity department workers joined the indefinite strike on Tuesday, said M. Kodandaram, convenor of the TJAC. They will continue to maintain emergency services. Coal production has come to a halt in four districts of Telangana after workers of state-run Singareni Collieries Co. Ltdwent on strike.
At the public meeting broadcast live by Telugu channels on Tuesday, Rao gave no signs of being ready for a compromise. He likened the Telangana agitation to riding a tiger. Those who fall off the tiger’s back will be devoured, he said in Telugu. Any decision on another hunger strike will be taken after consultations within the TJAC, he said.
The Telangana agitation has periodically rocked Andhra Pradesh, a state of 85 million people, in the past two years. The Centre says a political consensus is necessary to resolve the issue, but politicians from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions want a united state to be maintained. A key stumbling block is the status of Hyderabad, which Telangana activists say belongs to them, and which the remaining two regions are not willing to give up.