HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Police with bamboo batons clashed with crowds of protesters in southern India on Thursday as outrage over a delay in creating a new state erupted into violent demonstrations in several cities.
Hundreds of armed police patrolled the southern state of Andhra Pradesh after protesters burned dozens of vehicles overnight. Advocates of the new state staged a general strike Thursday that paralyzed much of the region.
India has faced renewed calls to redraw its administrative map since the government’s surprise decision earlier this month to give in to a senior official’s hunger strike demanding the formation of a new state called Telangana in the northern part of Andhra Pradesh.
The announcement on Telangana prompted ethnic minorities and activists seeking states of their own to begin pressing longtime grievances anew, and India found itself confronting calls for a wholesale redrawing of the map in the diverse nation of 1.2 billion.
The Telangana decision sparked joy among its supporters but fury from opponents in Andhra Pradesh, who flooded the streets, set public buses on fire and clashed with police for three days.
On Wednesday night, India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram appeared to backtrack on the issue, saying the situation in Andhra Pradesh “has altered” since his initial announcement promising the creation of Telangana.
“A large number of political parties are divided on the issue,” he said. “There is a need to hold wide-ranging consultations with all political parties and groups in the state.”
Soon after Chidambaram’s comments, hundreds of angry pro-Telangana protesters took to the streets, torching and damaging dozens of buses.
Police confronting angry student demonstrators used wooden batons to beat back crowds in Hyderabad, local television footage showed. An Associated Press photographer witnessed other clashes between police and protesters.
Violence was reported in at least two other cities, although details of casualties were not available.
At least 50 local lawmakers and 11 federal legislators who support the creation of the new state offered their resignation following Chidambaram’s comments.
K. Chandrasekhara Rao, the politician who went on the hunger strike to demand the new state, called the delay “a betrayal of the people of Telangana.”
“This is an attempt to put Telangana into cold storage. He has used the words ‘wide-ranging consultation with all political parties’ without giving any timeframe. How long this will go on?” Rao said.
Activists in the Telangana area have long complained it was underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from southern Andhra Pradesh. Demands for a separate state had erupted sporadically since the 1950s.
The 48-hour strike was called by Telangana supporters from various political parties.
On Thursday, businesses and shops were shut and vehicles stayed off the roads during the strike. However, Rao told reporters late Thursday that organizers agreed to call off Friday’s planned second day of the strike in response to a call from Christian leaders to respect the Christmas holiday.
Several parts of India — the Bundelkhand region in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Vidarbha in the western Maharashtra state and Gorkhaland in the eastern West Bengal state — also face similar movements for new states. So far there have been no moves by the government to create separate states there.
India now has 28 states and seven federally administered regions.