A powerful former ally of India’s ruling Congress party launched a hunger strike on Saturday to protest against plans to carve out a new state in the country’s south.
YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who broke away from Congress to start his own party, was greeted by thousands of supporters as he began the fast against the move to split his home state of Andhra Pradesh and create the new state of Telangana.
“We are opposing this unilateral move of the central government to split Andhra Pradesh,” he told NDTV news network in Hyderabad, the state capital where many information-technology giants, including Google and Microsoft, have offices.
“We will be going to the Supreme Court to protest and challenge the decision of the Cabinet. The central government does not want a united Andhra Pradesh,” he said.
Reddy, 40, is the son of the late YSR Reddy, the hugely popular former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, who died in a helicopter crash in 2009.
The start of his fast came as police fired teargas to disperse a mob that went on a rampage in one district, damaging vehicles, the Press Trust of India reported.
Security has been tightened around homes of Congress leaders, fearing attacks by protesters, police said.
The state would be created out of an impoverished northern area of Andhra Pradesh that its supporters say has been neglected by successive governments.
The Congress party, led by president Sonia Gandhi, approved the creation of Telangana in July, triggering widespread protests in Andhra Pradesh.
The national Cabinet’s clearance of the proposal on Thursday sparked fresh demonstrations in the region, while three federal ministers tendered their resignations on Friday in protest.
The resignations highlighted divisions in an already fractious Congress party that threaten to undermine its performance in national elections due by May next year.
Telangana now needs parliamentary clearance to become India’s 29th state.
Critics say the plans for Telengana were made with hopes of winning votes in the region, but warn the move may backfire amid the intensifying political battle.
Opponents of the carve-up say development money has poured into Telangana in recent years and that the capital, Hyderabad, benefited from contributions from all regions of the state.
The Congress has denied seeking any political advantage from splitting the state, insisting it is only fulfilling a long-standing pledge.
Andhra Pradesh, created in 1956, was India’s first state to be set up on grounds of a shared language and laid down a precedent for establishing states along linguistic lines.