Andhra in ferment, Congress calls for peace to ebb war within


New Delhi/Hyderabad: The war within the Congress party over the Telangana issue intensified Tuesday as unrest raged in Andhra Pradesh against the proposed division of the state. Under attack from its allies, the ruling party appealed for peace.

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At a 90-minute meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), the Congress came in for criticism from some of its allies for taking the decision to split Andhra Pradesh without adequate consultation within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), informed sources said.

Presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress at the CCPA was represented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Law minister M. Veerappa Moily, who is in-charge of Andhra Pradesh. Others who attended the meeting included Nationalist Congress Party head and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and the DMK’s Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran.

A statement issued after the cabinet meet said: “The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs took stock of the situation in Andhra Pradesh and appeals to the people and all political parties in Andhra Pradesh to maintain peace and harmony.”

The statement made no reference to the proposed formation of Telangana, a state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh by slicing 10 of its districts, including Hyderabad.

The sharp differences among Congress leaders from Telangana on the one hand and Rayalseema and Andhra on the other were evident in the Lok Sabha earlier in the day when they traded charges against one another, leading to brief adjournment of the house.

Unwilling to accept the central government’s decision to initiate the process for the formation of a Telangana state, demonstrators took to the streets in most parts of Rayalseema and coastal Andhra where normal life was hit by a shutdown.

Rallies, demonstrations, meetings, relay hunger strikes as well as road and rail blockades affected life for the fifth consecutive day. State-run buses went off the roads.

Raising slogans of “Samaikya Andhra” (United Andhra), the protesters blocked vehicles and trains at Vijayawada, Guntur, Viskahapatnam, Nellore, Anantapur, Tirupati and other towns.

At least five people, including two policemen, were injured in clashes at Sri Krishnadevaraya University in Anantapur, about 360 km from Hyderabad. Sporadic incidents of violence were also reported from Krishna and Guntur.

In Anantapur, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) legislator P. Sunita and three others continued their hunger strike for the second day. In Vijayawada the indefinite fast by four TDP leaders continued for the third day.

The Congress MP from Vijayawada, L. Rajagopal, launched a hunger strike in the town after the police in Hyderabad foiled his attempts to protest there.

Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, a Congress legislator and brother of the late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was arrested in Hyderabad when he sat on fast near the state secretariat. Police also sent him back to his native Kadapa district.

In New Delhi, the Lok Sabha was adjourned after witnessing unruly scenes as Congress MPs sparred over Telangana.

The highlight of the drama was when YSR’s son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who failed to become the chief minister after his father’s death in a chopper crash September, went up to Speaker Meira Kumar’s podium to join protesting TDP members.

Much to the surprise of his Congress colleagues, he shook hands with TDP members. He took a placard – “We want united AP” – held by one of them and waved it.

Furious Congress MPs from Telangana urged Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is also chairman of the Congress disciplinary committee, to take action against YSR’s son for “colluding” with the TDP in the Lok Sabha.

Andhra Pradesh, one of India’s biggest states, remained divided on regional lines.

The monolithic TDP is facing the threat of a split, with its leaders from Telangana region pressing the leadership to divide the party.

Cutting across party lines, legislators marched from the state assembly to the secretariat before paying tributes to Potti Sriramulu — the founder father of Andhra Pradesh — on his death anniversary.

TDP legislators, meanwhile, pressed the Andhra Pradesh assembly speaker to accept their resignations. As many as 138 members of the 294-member house from the two regions have submitted their resignations to protest the move to form Telangana state.

The mass resignations had forced the adjournment of the assembly sine die.