India’s ruling Congress party approves new state


India’s ruling Congress party approved a resolution Tuesday to create a new state in the southeast amid fears the decision could spark violence in the region, which includes IT hub Hyderabad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and other senior party officials agreed to grant long-standing demands for the state of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh state.

“A resolution was passed in the meeting where it was resolved to request the central government to take steps to form a separate state of Telangana,” Congress spokesman Ajay Maken said.

The resolution was cleared “after taking into account the checkered history of the demand for a separate state of Telangana since 1956,” Maken told reporters in New Delhi.

The Congress move must still be approved by parliament but the new state’s creation has the backing of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has accused the government of “dilly-dallying” on the issue.

The planned state, which would be India’s 29th, would be created out of an impoverished, drought-prone mainly tribal belt that supporters say has been neglected by successive Andhra Pradesh governments.

But Andhra Pradesh’s wealthier regions are strongly opposed to the move.

Critics said New Delhi risked opening a “Pandora’s box” of demands for statehood by other regional groups in ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse India, which also has a host of separatist movements.

“The message being sent out is ‘you agitate for some years and you can have your own state,’ ” said K.G. Suresh, a fellow at Delhi-based think tank, Vivekanand International Foundation. “Creation of Telangana state will open a Pandora’s box,” Suresh said.

The Telangana issue, the source of frequent clashes between protesters and police since 2009, has led security forces to be put on alert in Hyderabad, which is home to tech firms such as Facebook and Google.

In 2009, the the home minister at the time, P. Chidambaram, promised Telangana supporters that the government would finally bow to their campaign after a hunger strike by a regional leader and violent protests by students.

Andhra Pradesh, formed in 1956, is India’s fifth largest state in terms of territory and sends 42 lawmakers to India’s 543-member parliament.