Cong seeks to contain Telangana fallout

Cong seeks to contain Telangana fallout

New Delhi: The ruling Congress party sought to limit the damage on Thursday as protesters took to the streets in Andhra Pradesh in an immediate political backlash over the Centre’s decision to put the creation of a separate Telangana state on the backburner.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, assured a delegation of 11 party members of Parliament (MPs) from Telangana who submitted their resignations that there would be no going back on the decision to create a separate state.

Patel “assured us that there will be no deviation on the party’s stand on Telangana and there is no going back," Madhu Yaskhi, one of the MPs, told reporters after the meeting, which took place shortly after they had handed their resignations to Gandhi. The resignations, however, won’t be taken back, Yaskhi said. “Resignations are a small step. We have an obligation to fulfill the aspirations of the people of Telangana," he said.

In Andhra Pradesh, around 70 members of the state assembly cutting across party lines, two opposition Telugu Desam Party MPs and a state minister resigned to protest home minister P. Chidambaram’s statement on Wednesday night that indicated the Centre was backtracking on a 9 December announcement that steps would be initiated to create a separate Telangana state.

Chidambaram said the situation in Andhra Pradesh “has altered" since his initial announcement promising the creation of Telangana.

“A large number of political parties are divided on the issue," he said. “There is a need to hold wide-ranging consultations with all political parties and groups in the state."

Soon after Chidambaram’s comments, hundreds of angry pro-Telangana protesters took to the streets, torching and damaging dozens of buses.

On Thursday, police with bamboo batons clashed with crowds of protesters as outrage over the delay in creating Telangana erupted into violent demonstrations in several cities across Andhra Pradesh.

Advocates of the new state, led by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), staged a general strike that paralyzed much of the region.

TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the politician whose 11-day hunger strike to demand the new state forced the 9 December announcement by the Centre, called the delay “a betrayal of the people of Telangana."

“This is an attempt to put Telangana into cold storage. He (Chidambaram) has used the words ‘wide-ranging consultation with all political parties’ without giving any timeframe. How long this will go on?" Rao said about Chidambaram’s statement.

Businesses and shops were shut and vehicles stayed off the roads during Thursday’s strike. However, Rao told reporters that organizers agreed to call off Friday’s planned second day of the strike in response to a call from Christian leaders to respect the Christmas holiday.

Rao rejected suggestions for the creation of a States Reorganisation Commission to look into the Telangana issue and other demands for the creation of separate states. Such a proposal is “not at all acceptable", he said.

In New Delhi, the Central government said “one-sided" decisions cannot be taken because consensus was required on the issue. Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni expressed confidence that the people will “accept it" after some time. According to a senior Congress leader based in New Delhi who didn’t want to be named, Andhra Pradesh chief minister K. Rosaiah hadn’t been able to manage the situation and the central leadership may eventually be forced to bring the state under President’s Rule.

If President’s Rule has to be imposed, senior Congress leaders at the central level want the assembly dissolved and fresh elections to be held, he said.

Meanwhile, Union cabinet secretary K.N. Chandrasekharan arrived in Hyderabad on Thursday and met state governor N.D. Tiwari to assess the situation. Chief minister Rosaiah held an emergency meeting with ministers to take stock of the situation.

“The chief minister did not rule out the possibility of President’s Rule following deteriorating law and order situation in the state," a cabinet minister who did not want to be named said.

Mint’s Liz Mathew and AP contributed to this