Uneasy peace reigns after Indian state unrestBy Asian Correspondent Dec 14, 2009 8:38AM UTC
Most trains and buses started running again Monday and businesses and schools reopened in Andhra Pradesh following three days of violent protests against the government’s plan to split up the southern Indian state.
Police, hoping to maintain the fragile calm, also arrested a ruling party lawmaker who was preparing to begin a high-profile hunger strike to protest the splitting of the state. However, the lawmaker was freed hours later.
An earlier hunger strike spurred the federal government’s surprise decision last week to create a new state called Telangana out of what is now the northern portion of Andhra Pradesh.
Activists in that area had complained it was underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from southern Andhra Pradesh. Demands for a separate state have erupted sporadically since the 1950s.
The decision sparked joy among its supporters and a fury from opponents, who flooded the streets, set public buses on fire and clashed with police for three days.
Twenty of the state’s 34 ministers and nearly 140 of 294 lawmakers resigned, demanding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government reverse its decision to split the state.
One factor driving the protests was confusion over the future of Hyderabad — the state capital and a base for several multinational corporations — which would fall deep inside Telangana. There was no official decision yet on whether Hyderabad would be part of the new state, the old state, or serve as a joint capital.
On Monday, police dispersed nearly 400 students who blocked an interstate highway in the town of Anantpur over the weekend and restored normal traffic. Most buses and trains resumed across the state, and businesses reopened.
The remaining members of the state legislature met briefly in Hyderabad, but the session was adjourned because of noisy protests inside the parliament by those for and against the creation of a new state.
Authorities also arrested L.R. Rajagopal, a Congress party member of the national Parliament, as he landed at the Hyderabad airport on his way to begin a hunger strike at the state legislature complex. A.R. Anuradha, inspector general of police, said the lawmaker was arrested to prevent him from disturbing the peace.
As the news of Rajagopal’s arrest reached his hometown Vijaywada, hundreds of people came out on the streets, blocked traffic and shouted slogans demanding his release.
An opposition lawmaker, D. Umamaheshwar Rao, continued his hunger strike for a second day in Vijaywada.
The federal government’s decision has given hope to ethnic minority groups across India that have pushed for states of their own for decades, including in the remote northeast, where long simmering separatist demands often boil over into violence.
There are movements calling for the break up of at least six other states.