NEW DELHI - The chief minister of an Indian state resigned on Wednesday in protest at a contentious bill to split his state in two, a plan which has triggered chaotic scenes in parliament.
Kiran Kumar Reddy announced he was stepping down with a “heavy heart” as chief minister of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and from the ruling Congress party over the bill to create the country’s 29th state.
The bill was expected to be introduced later Wednesday in parliament’s upper house to carve the new state called Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, after a decades-long campaign.
Reddy’s move comes a day after uproar during a vote on the bill in the lower house of parliament that saw a blackout of live televised proceedings amid fears of vociferous protests by opposing MPs.
Reddy slammed as shameful lawmakers’ behaviour in pushing through the bill without proper debate, and also attacked the decision to cut the TV feed to stop the public watching.
“The manner in which the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house) reflects the new depths to which our parliamentary institutions have sunk in,” Reddy wrote in his resignation letter.
He accused Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of supporting the bill merely to win votes in the general election due by the end of May.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram defended his government’s handling of the bill saying it was forced to push ahead because a small number of unruly MPs were halting proceedings “day after day”.
“If 12 people are allowed to disrupt the Lok Sabha day after day after day, and even on the day when the bill is brought for vote. Is that democratic? It is the most undemocratic act,” Chidambaram told NDTV. Chidambaram had to struggle to be heard in the parliament this week when he presented the budget because of chanting, protesting lawmakers opposed to Telangana.
Critics say the Congress-led government has decided to move on Telangana before the polls to try to win crucial support in the tribal and drought-prone districts that will form the new state.
But they warn the move may backfire amid an intensifying political battle in Andhra Pradesh where Reddy could now form his own party.
- Telangana long neglected -
Supporters have campaigned for 53 years for economically deprived Telangana, which they say has been neglected by successive state governments.
Wealthier coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh have fiercely opposed the split because they say it would create economic upheaval.
Hyderabad, an IT hub home to giants Google, Microsoft and Dell, will serve as joint capital of both states for the next 10 years.
The intensity of the anger over Telangana was apparent in parliament in New Delhi last week when lawmakers exchanged blows, tried to destroy equipment and pepper-sprayed the chamber as the bill was introduced.
Some 17 MPs were suspended over the mayhem which saw legislators opposed to Telangana try to pull out the speaker’s microphone, smash a glass table and rip up papers.
On Tuesday the broadcast of proceedings was suddenly halted shortly before the vote on the bill, amid fears there would be a repeat of the chaos and it would be shown live.
Officials quoted in the Indian media on Wednesday blamed the feed cut on a “technical glitch”, but the BJP claimed the move was planned.
Ahead of the vote, police were on alert in Andhra Pradesh where street protests were expected to erupt if the bill was passed.
Protests against the state’s break-up were held on Tuesday, while supporters staged celebrations in Hyderabad and in some of the 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh that will form the new state.
India last redrew its internal boundaries in 2000, with the creation of three new states in economically deprived areas in the north.
Critics say the bill could open a “Pandora’s box” of demands for statehood by other regional groups in the ethnically diverse nation, which also has a host of separatist movements.