India’s 29th state born amid protest, pepper spray

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images - Indian supporters of the Telangana Rastra Samithi party shout slogans as they celebrate the planned creation of Telangana state in Hyderabad on Feb. 18.

NEW DELHI — After several days of noisy and even violent debate, India’s Parliament cleared the way Tuesday for the creation of a new state in the country’s southeast.

The plan approved by India’s lower house of Parliament calls for splitting the existing state of Andhra Pradesh — home to 84 million people and about the size of Germany — in two. The new half, where many residents speak the Telugu language, will become Telangana.

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The bifurcation plan has been hotly debated since it was officially introduced in 2009 and over time has inspired waves of violent street protests and strikes.

Telangana’s final march toward statehood was similarly difficult. Last week, debate in the Lok Sabha, the country’s elected house of Parliament, dissolved into a messy brawl after one member doused his opponents with pepper spray, sending a handful to the hospital. Sixteen other members were eventually suspended.

On Tuesday, as the final vote neared, extra guards were stationed around Parliament and an ambulance stood by. On the lower-house floor, opponents shouted, wielded signs demanding a unified state and staged a protest walkout. Then, as the vote began, the television feed was mysteriously cut off, reportedly at the order of the body’s speaker, Meira Kumar. This caused another uproar.

“Today is a black day in the history of this country. Today we have seen with our own eyes how democracy could be killed in broad daylight,” Telangana opponent Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, a member of Parliament, said after the vote. He called for a statewide protest bandh, or strike, for Wednesday.

Reddy, the son of the state’s late chief minister, has been a vocal critic of the split for months. He waged an “indefinite fast” against the bill in the fall, which the weekly magazine Tehelka noted drolly was launched in front of his “Lotus Pond mansion in the tony Jubilee Hills area” of the state’s capital, Hyderabad.

Reddy and other opponents have argued that the split could put pressure on scarce water resources and hurt the region’s economy.

They also were reluctant to give up the state’s crown jewel, the ancient city of Hyderabad, which falls in Telangana’s boundaries. Hyderabad was once a princely state ruled by nizams but is now a thriving tech hub that generates the majority of the state’s sales tax and is home to such global companies as Google and Facebook. The two states will share the capital for the next 10 years, after which Andhra Pradesh is on its own.

In Hyderabad, 958 miles to the southeast of the capital, people danced and celebrated in the streets Tuesday. They waved the new Telangana flags, sprayed one another with fuchsia paint and passed around sweets.

The country’s upper body still has to put its stamp of approval on the plan Wednesday, but for supporters, Tuesday’s vote sealed Telangana’s future. Heightened security was in force after the vote; a wave of protests in the fall led to a government workers’ strike that left thousands without power and disrupted train schedules for days.

On the campus of Osmania University, student leader and Telangana proponent Krishank Manne celebrated in a crowd of about 6,000 other students.

“It’s unbelievable,” Manne said. “For 60 years we have been struggling, so it’s exciting to know that Telangana is a reality.”

 
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