NEW DELHI – India’s lower house moved to create a new state in the south to resolve a 50-year dispute, risking unrest where Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have their offices as the ruling Congress party seeks votes before elections.
The law creating Telangana state from 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth-most populous state that sits on its southeastern coast, passed Tuesday despite protests. A lawmaker last week used pepper spray to prevent the bill from being presented amid a scuffle that left 18 parliamentarians suspended, and Tuesday a live television feed of the proceedings was cut.
“This is a black day in the history of this country,” Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, leader of the YSR Congress, a party based in Andhra Pradesh that opposes the division of the state, told reporters Tuesday. He called for a general strike in the state Wednesday in protest.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress party is seeking to hold onto power as opinion polls show its decadelong rule coming to an end. The move to create Telangana will show voters it can make tough decisions while also helping Congress retain some seats in the region, according to Louise Tillin, a lecturer in politics at King’s College London.
“Andhra Pradesh in the past has been an important part of Congress’ parliamentary contingent so even the 19 seats in Telangana are not seats that they want to lose,” said Tillin, who has written a book on the formation of India’s newest states. “Congress is also trying to reclaim its reputation for its ability to pass bold legislation.”
Congress leaders such as Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said it was the speaker’s decision to take the unprecedented step of not broadcasting the vote to keep order in parliament. Contradicting those claims, the parliament channel said the feed was cut due to a technical problem, according to a statement.
Hyderabad, a center for information technology and pharmaceutical companies, is at the heart of the dispute. It lies within the proposed boundaries of Telangana and is also claimed by those who oppose splitting Andhra Pradesh.
In the city, proponents of the new state celebrated by setting off firecrackers, dancing in the streets, and distributing sweets to supporters, causing long traffic jams. No major incidents were reported as police kept watch.
The law would make Hyderabad the common capital for both regions for 10 years. The legislation will now be presented in the upper house of parliament for approval.
Andhra Pradesh, which has 42 members in India’s federal parliament, played a crucial role in the Congress party’s back-to-back election victories in 2004 and 2009. Singh’s government backed the campaign for Telangana statehood in December 2009 after a local leader’s hunger strike triggered protests that closed roads and offices.
Telangana would be the first new Indian state since three were added in 2000, making 28 states and seven union territories. Supporters of the new state for the area’s 35 million people, the size of the population of Canada, claim the inland areas have been ignored in favor of coastal regions.
Congress has seen its support in Andhra Pradesh’s coastal areas decline since it backed the creation of Telangana in 2009.
“Congress is trying to fulfill its promise on the creation of a separate state,” said Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “Instead of losing the whole state, at least from the Telangana region they will get some votes.”