Braving attacks by pro-Telangana elements, nearly one lakh employees from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions congregated in Hyderabad on Saturday for a rally, which gave the call to keep the state united.
Significantly, employees from Telangana districts like Nalgonda, Khammam, Medak and Warangal -- though small in number -- also attended the 'Save Andhra Pradesh' rally organised by the AP Non-Gazetted Officers Association and expressed solidarity with their colleagues from the other regions.
The Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium overflowed as more than 80,000 employees with valid identity cards made their way to the rally revue while several thousands, without ID cards, had to remain outside.
Political leaders were kept away from the rally following restrictions imposed by Andhra Pradesh high court.
The pro-Telangana elements tried to prevent the unified state protagonists from going ahead with the rally. The 24-hour bandh called by Telangana Joint Action Committee, which had little impact in Hyderabad, was designed to foil the 'Samaikya Andhra' rally.
In the morning, pro-Telangana supporters pelted stones on policemen and employees from Andhra-Rayalaseema regions in a bid to thwart the rally.
Several pro-Telangana elements, masquerading as students, gathered in the Nizam College hostel building near the stadium, and hurled stones at employees from Andhra- Rayalaseema regions, who were on their way to the rally.
Police, who entered the hostel building to disperse the violent mob, were also greeted with stones. Police lobbed teargas shells as violent Telangana elements rained stones on them, leaving at least three policemen injured.
Andhra and Rayalaseema regions have witnessed large-scale agitation ever since the Congress leadership on July 30 announced its decision to grant statehood to Telangana.
Saturday's rally was part of the agitation to push for keeping the state united and to mount pressure on Centre to rescind its decision.
"We were quietly walking on the road leading to the stadium when suddenly we were pelted with stones. Two of my colleagues were wounded in the incident," Visweswara Rao, a government employee from Adoni in Kurnool district, said.
Police in riot gear took several people into custody and whisked them away from the hostel building, a senior officer, who oversaw the situation, said.
The Telangana supporters tried to march from the Osmania University campus to the stadium to disrupt the rally, police said.
Notwithstanding the appeal made by TJAC and pro-Telangana parties for calm, several rogue elements virtually ran riot both at the Nizam College hostel as well as the university, they said.
Minutes before the rally commenced at 2 pm, a group of people came on bikes near the Assembly building and raised pro-Telangana slogans. Another group tried to march towards the stadium but police took their members into custody.
Aggravating the tense atmosphere in the city, legislators belonging to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti rushed to the assembly in the afternoon to stage a "deeksha" (protest) at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi to denounce the "discriminatory" attitude of the state administration.
TRS MLAs had a face-off with police at the assembly when they tried to foil the former's plan. "This is a dark moment when our rights as legislators have been denied," TRS floor leader in the assembly E Rajender said.
Half-a-dozen TRS MLAs then staged a dharna on the assembly premises even as Independent MLA Nagam Janardhan Reddy, who recently joined the BJP, also joined them.
Meanwhile, Telangana Gazetted Officers Association leader Devi Prasad announced they were planning to hold a rally either in Visakhapatnam or Vijayawada in coastal Andhra in support of the state's division.
"Misuse of official power and machinery in today's 'Save Andhra Pradesh' rally is glaring," he said and claimed the Telangana bandh was a "total success".