Reuters | Mon Dec 14, 2009 | 4:27pm IST
Thousands marched in ports and towns of southern Andhra Pradesh to protest plans to carve out a new state, as a backlash grew against demands for statehood in a challenge for the Congress party-led government. The government said last week that it would push for the formation of a Telangana state after a week of violent protests and a hunger strike by a leading politician shut down business in the state’s high-tech Hyderabad city. In coastal towns and cities, protesters marched, waving red flags and placards saying: “We want united Andhra Pradesh.” Lawmakers shouted slogans against Telangana inside the state assembly in Hyderabad, prompting the speaker to adjourn the winter session indefinitely. Hyderabad — the state capital and home to companies like Microsoft, Google and Dell — has been largely unaffected. India moved a cricket match with Sri Lanka out of the port city of Visakhapatnam, to Nagpur, due to the protests.
Since independence in 1947, India has had to balance the challenges of maintaining different peoples under one federal system as well as the relationship between central power in the capital Delhi and the states of the world’s largest democracy. Just six months into office, the government has been besieged by a slew of crises, making it difficult to carry through promises of policy change and economic reforms. Last month the government yielded to demands on sugar prices after tens of thousands of farmers marched to parliament, putting a halt to proceedings for two days.
The government plans for Telangana have sparked other demands for statehood in India. In Maharashtra, demonstrators demanded the creation of a separate Vidarbha state. Hundreds of people stopped trains in Nagpur on Monday, demanding the creation of the new state, police said. In West Bengal, the Gorkhas or ethnic Nepalis have called a hunger strike demanding their own “Gorkhaland” to protect their heritage. “The Congress needs to quickly intervene and resolve the Andhra Pradesh crisis or many statehood demands will rise, putting the government under a lot of pressure,” said D.H. Pai Panandikar, president of the RPG Foundation, an economic think-tank.