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India’s Parliament approves new 29th state

AP

India’s Parliament on Thursday approved a plan to create a 29th state following days of political mayhem, including a melee in which a lawmaker unleashed pepper spray on his colleagues.

Members of groups opposed to the division of southern Andhra Pradesh state shouted, “No, No” to drown out a speech by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh just before the vote in the upper house.

The chamber passed the bill in a voice vote as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party joined the ruling Congress party in supporting the legislation, which was approved by the lower house on Tuesday.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) lawmakers then demanded a formal count, and walked out when the upper house chairman replied that it was impossible because of the chaos, with protesting lawmakers refusing to take their seats.

The president is now expected to sign the bill to create Telangana state from mostly poor, inland districts of Andhra Pradesh. Opponents had objected to including wealthy tech and industrial hub Hyderabad in Telangana.

Telangana supporters danced with joy in the streets of Hyderabad, their future capital, as the upper house approved the bill.

Ramgopal Yadav, a Socialist Party leader, said the law would fuel demands for divisions of some other states in the country.

The proposal to carve out Telangana has inspired passions since the 1950s, with hunger strikes and violent protests claiming about 1,000 lives over the past decade. Several protesters set themselves on fire to press for the creation of the state.

Telangana supporters say their drought-prone northern area is underdeveloped and its residents face discrimination in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs. They say statehood will allow the future state, with 35 million people, to obtain ample resources.

But opponents do not want to lose Hyderabad, India’s sixth-largest city and a major IT hub, from which much of the state revenue comes. Although the two states are to share Hyderabad as their capital for the next 10 years, the city is located geographically in the future new state.

Last week, to stop the bill from coming to a vote, Congress party lawmaker L. Rajagopal from Andhra Pradesh unleashed pepper spray in the lower house of Parliament. “I have a lot of respect for Indian democracy. I want to prevent the bill,” Rajagopal said.

Several members attempted to subdue Rajagopal, leading to a scuffle before he was eventually expelled from the chamber. Rajagopal later resigned from Parliament and announced he was quitting politics to protest the division of the state.

Live television broadcasts were halted during the lower house vote on Tuesday. The opposition rejected the authorities’ explanation that the interruption was caused by a technical glitch, and said it was a deliberate action to avoid the broadcast of embarrassing outbursts by opponents of the bill.