Andhra turmoil fails to abate

Andhra turmoil fails to abate

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh was battling an escalating political crisis cutting across party lines at the weekend as elected public representatives from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions stepped up pressure on the Congress party leadership and the Central and state governments to scuttle the proposed creation of a separate Telangana state.

With 76 of the Congress party’s 157 state lawmakers resigning and 20 ministers having said that they intend to resign to protest against the decision, the state is also heading for a potential constitutional quandary. Deepening the divide, 13 other state ministers belonging to Telangana prepared to resign in favour of statehood and urged the Congress high command not to give in to pressure from leaders campaigning against the move.

On Sunday, hundreds of people went on a hunger strike to protest the proposed creation of Telangana, but violence ebbed in the state.

Thousands of protesters had set public buses on fire and clashed with police for three days after the Union government on Wednesday unexpectedly gave in to an 11-day hunger strike by Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who demanded the creation of Telangana state. Rao and others complained the Telangana area in the north was underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from southern Andhra Pradesh. Demands for a separate state have erupted sporadically since the 1950s.

The government decision led to the counter-protests. One factor driving the counter- protests is that under the government’s proposal, Hyderabad—state capital and a base for several multinational firms—would be located deep inside Telangana. There was no official decision yet on whether Hyderabad would be part of the new state, the old state, or serve as a joint capital.

One opposition lawmaker, D. Umamaheshwar Rao, went on an indefinite hunger strike in Vijayawada. Nearly 400 students blocked an interstate highway, and shops, businesses and schools remained closed for a second day in three major towns—Anantpur, Chittoor and Nellore.

Chief minister K. Rosaiah has asked his ministers not to take any decision in haste and to maintain restraint until the Congress leadership finds an amicable solution to the crisis, said a minister on condition of anonymity. Assembly speaker N. Kiran Kumar Reddy is in talks with constitutional experts on the course of action he has to take on the resignations by 138 state lawmakers he has received cutting across political parties.

Senior lawyer and constitutional expert S.R. Ashok said the situation cannot be termed a constitutional crisis as yet. “The speaker is yet to verify the resignations, discuss with the MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) and take a call on accepting them. So, the question of constitutional crisis arises only when the resignations are accepted," he said. The president of the state chapter of the Congress party, D. Srinivas, appealed to the lawmakers to take back their resignations and urged them not to embarrass party president Sonia Gandhi, the party and the state and Central governments on the sensitive issue. The leadership of the Praja Rajyam Party, headed by actor Chiranjeevi, which had favoured statehood for Telangana, is also finding itself in an embarrassing situation, with 14 of its lawmakers from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema resigning to oppose bifurcation.

Andhra Pradesh’s key opposition party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), headed by former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, has also been in turmoil. Several of its elected public representatives, including state lawmakers and members of Parliament from Andhra and Rayalaseema, have resigned to protest the Telangana proposal. “The TDP leadership is now struggling to come up with an effective firefighting strategy to handle what could be considered one of the deepest crises the party has encountered since its inception," said a senior TDP leader from Telangana who did not want to be named.

Congress member of Parliament from Vijayawada, Lagadapati Rajagopal, who had put in his papers, has asked the state government to immediately introduce the Telangana Bill in the assembly. He claimed that at least 225 of the 294 members in the assembly would oppose the break-up of the state. Rajagopal threatened to go on a “fast-unto-death" if the government did not introduce the Telangana Bill in the assembly.

According to senior Congress officials in Delhi, who didn’t want to be named, Andhra party members want an emissary to be sent to Hyderabad. They also said they are confident that the situation could be defused.

Liz Mathew of Mint, PTI and Omer Farooq of AP contributed to this story.