The Centre on Thursday evening took the first significant step towards creation of a separate Telangana state from out of Andhra Pradesh and decided that Hyderabad will be the joint capital of the two states for 10 years.
Over two months after the Congress Working Committee put its seal of approval, the Union Cabinet approved the proposal of the home ministry for creation of the 29th state and decided to set up a Group of Ministers to work out modalities.
"The Cabinet has given its approval for the creation of a new state of Telangana," Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters after the meeting that lasted more than two hours.
He said it was decided that Hyderabad will be the common capital of the two bifucated states for 10 years.
After the creation of the new state, the security and guarantees including fundamental rights of the people of coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana will be ensured, he said.
The Cabinet approved a GoM that will go into the issue of a special financial disbursement that may be required from the central government for the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, for building its capital and to cater to special needs of the backward regions.
The new state will have a geographical area of 10 of the 23 districts of undivided Andhra Pradesh.
While Congress leaders from Seema-andhra regions, including Union ministers were condemning their own party leadership for its pro Telangana decision, party leaders from Telangana thanked party president Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister profusely.
Deputy Chief Minister Damodar Rajanarsimha described the decision of the Union Cabinet as "historic" and said that the people of Telangana will remember this day forever.
Thursday's decision brings to fruition the announcement made by the then Home Minister P Chidambaram on December 9, 2009 for creation of Telangana.
The Union Cabinet’s surprise move to take up the Telangana note for consideration has inflamed the passions of people in Seema-Andhra regions and several organisations have called for a 72-hour strike in 13 districts of two regions from Friday.
An angry YSR Congress President Jaganmohan Reddy has also joined the call for a 72 hour strike in Seema-andhra regions to protest against the decision of the Union Cabinet to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh.
"How dare they take this decision?" he asked.
Jagan blamed his bete noire Telugu Desam Party Pesident N Chandrababu Naidu for the bifurcation of the state.
"We had asked him time and again to withdraw his letter to the centre supporting the idea of bifurcation, but he did not listen," Jaganmohan Reddy said.
Party sources said that Jaganmohan Reddy was likely to again go on an indefinite fast. He had undertaken a similar fast while in jail but was forcibly asked to break his fast after six days.
The United Andhra Pradesh Protection Committee, Vishalandhra Mahasabha, United Andhra Pradesh joint Action Committee, student unions and Road Transport Corporation employees’ JAC were among the organisations who called for the general strike.
Meanwhile, APNGOs Association has called for a 48 hour strike. The association president Ashok Babu, who is leading the 52-day strike by government employees, appealed to the people to make the strike successful. "Don’t allow even central government offices to work from tomorrow," he said. He demanded that all the ministers from Seema-andhra regions should resign.
In view of the heightening tension, the state government has put the security forces on alert. Director General of Police B Prasad Rao held a video conference with the commissioners of Vijaywada and Visakhapatanam cities, SPs of 13 districts and inspector generals of different regions to discuss the situation
The decision to declare an alert was taken after the Union Home ministry sounded a warning to the state government that trouble was likely to break out over Union Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the bifurcation of the state.
Protest demonstrations have already broken out at many places and protestors were specially targeting the residences of the union ministers and members of Parliament. Agitators forced the closure of shops and business establishments in Kadapa, Vijaywada and other places.
In a related development, Union ministers of state Kavuri Sambasiva Rao and Pallam Raju, both from Andhra, have reportedly decided to resign from their posts in protest against the Cabinet decision.
There is no news about the other three ministers -- Killi Krupa Rani, Panabaka Lakshmi and D Purandeshwari so far. Among the MPs, several Congress members of the Lok Sabha have also announced their resignations. They include Subbam Hari, A Venkatram Reddy , Sai Pratap and V Arun Kumar.
The two ministers had come out of the Cabinet meeting mid way on Thursday evening. They, along with other central ministers from Seema-Andhra, were under tremendous pressure from the protestors to quit.
Meanwhile, scores of pro-united Andhra activists, including Telugu Desam Party Rajya Sabha MP CM Ramesh, held a protest outside the prime minister's residence in New Delhi on Thursday evening against the move to create a separate Telangana state.
The demonstration came ahead of the meeting of the Union Cabinet where UPA ministers approved the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
The Cabinet took the momentous decision despite stiff opposition from within Congress leaders from Seema-andhra region, including Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy and Union Ministers and MPs. Some of them even threatened to quit.
Ever since the CWC took the decision, there have been agitations against the bifurcation in the Seemandhra region.
In a bid to assuage feelings in the Seemandhra region, the Congress set up a committee headed by Defence Minister A K Antony to look into the grievances.
"The Cabinet has approved a Group of Ministers to determine an appropriate mechanism to ensure legal and administrative measures for both the successive states of the government to function from the common capital of Hyderabad for 10 years and to ensure safety and security of the residents of all three regions -- Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana, including guarantees of their fundamental rights.
"The Cabinet also approved…further sought from the GoM to determine a special financial disbursement that may be required from the central government revenues that would be available to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh for the formation of new capital and to meet the special needs of backward region of the state," Shinde said.
The districts that to be part of the new state will be Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, Mahaboobnagar, Medak, Nalgonda, Nizamabad, Rangareddy and Warangal besides Hyderabad.
The Cabinet decision was on the lines of the July 30 CWC resolution which said, "It is resolved to request the Central government to take steps in accordance with the Constitution to form a separate state of Telangana ... within a definite timeframe.
The CWC had also decided to recommend to the government that Hyderabad be made the joint capital of the newly-proposed state and the other regions--Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra--for a period of 10 years.
The momentous CWC decision came after hectic consultations, which involved consultations with UPA allies also.
In an indication of the changing times, the high security Begumpet area around the camp office and residence of Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy on Thursday night echoed with slogans of "Kiran Kumar down down". A large number of Telangana supporters gathered in the area and shouted slogans creating a sensation. The police later intervened and dispersed them.
Reddy had been on a collision course with Telangana supporters by openly opposing the bifurcation of the state. It is strongly speculated that he may also put in papers in a few days time to express his opposition to the Cabinet decision.
With inputs from PTI
Image: A supporter of Telangana demonstrates in New Delhi