NEW DELHI — India took a crucial step toward the creation of its 29th state Tuesday when the ruling Congress Party gave the idea its blessing.
The action immediately spurred activists to call for other long-standing demands for separate states to be met.
Supporters of a separate state of Telangana, which would be carved out of southern Andhra Pradesh state, have been campaigning for decades in hopes of boosting their political voice and garnering more economic resources. Tuesday’s move paves the way for a parliamentary vote in the legislative session beginning Aug. 5.
The government will finish creating the state within the next four to five months, said Digvijay Singh, a top Congress party leader.
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The large size of some of India’s 28 states makes them difficult to administer and has prompted movements to divide them. Telangana would become India’s 29th state.
Telangana supporters say the drought-prone northern area is underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from southern Andhra Pradesh. Residents of the 10 districts that form Telangana say they are discriminated against in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs.
The decision is likely to be opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, primarily because the proposed Telangana area would include Hyderabad, the state capital and industrial hub.
Police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed in Hyderabad and other parts of Andhra Pradesh to prevent protests after the announcement.
Several parts of India — the Bundelkhand region in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Vidarbha in western Maharashtra state and Gorkhaland in the eastern West Bengal state — face similar statehood movements, but the government has not made any moves to create states there.
On Tuesday, leaders of the Gorkhaland movement called for a three-day strike in the northern parts of West Bengal to press their demand.
The demand for a separate state of Telangana has erupted sporadically since the 1950s, with hunger strikes and violent protests claiming about 1,000 lives over the past decade. Several protesters self-immolated to press for the creation of the state.
The protests gained strength in 2009 when veteran politician K. Chandrasekhara Rao began a hunger strike. After 11 days, the federal government agreed to split the state.
The ruling Congress Party faces a tough national election next year on the heels of a weak economy, policy drift and a rash of corruption scandals and sees the support of a newly formed Telangana as essential in any possible victory scenario.
After India’s 1947 independence from Britain, New Delhi consolidated many princely kingdoms into 14 states in 1956. Many of these were further subdivided — there were 19 states by 1966 and 25 by 1987 — with the last three created in 2000.
Adding a new state presents a host of practical problems. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is geographically part of Telangana. Congress Party officials announced a compromise Tuesday: Hyderabad will remain a joint capital for 10 years, giving the rest of Andhra Pradesh enough time to create its own base.
Water rights also need to be finessed, given that most of the catchment area for the region’s two major rivers lies in the Telangana area, which also supplies nearly two-thirds of the state’s revenue. On the other hand, Telangana is largely barren, with an acute power shortage.