NEW DELHI // After a day of protests, India's ruling coalition approved the creation of a new state of Telangana, to be carved out of the existing southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
The Congress party, which leads the national coalition government, had promised statehood to the voters and parties in the Telangana region before the 2009 general election. Yesterday's decision was carefully timed, coming less than a year before the next election.
"A decision has to be taken and it will be taken," Digvijaya Singh, one of the party's general secretaries, had promised on Monday.
Supporters of a united Andhra Pradesh staged protests across the state yesterday, often clashing with the 1,000extra paramilitary personnel who had been moved into the state on Monday to step up security.
Several politicians from Andhra Pradesh rushed to Delhi to try to stall or scuttle the decision to split up the state.
But Ajit Singh, the civil aviation minister and the head of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, one of the parties in the coalition, said yesterday the decision had been unanimous.
Hyderabad would function for the next 10 years as the common capital of Telangana and Seemandhra, as the remainder of Andhra Pradesh will be known.
Mr Singh denied that the decision had been made out of political expediency and said he expected the formation of the new state to take four to five months.
Proponents of a separate Telangana, home to 40 per cent of Andhra Pradesh's population, have argued since the 1960s that the region is underrepresented in the state legislature and the bureaucracy, and underdeveloped in relation to the remainder of Andhra Pradesh.
A government-appointed committee two years ago found that although Telangana was indeed relatively poorer, there was no "real evidence of any major neglect by the state government in matters of overall economic development".
The Congress promise to make Telangana a state, which will be India's 29th, has been neatly bookended by twol elections.
Having won the 2009 election, it deferred a decision on Telangana's statehood, partly for fear of encouraging similar demands in other parts of the country.
As soon as the government's decision was announced yesterday, Roshan Giri, a politician whose party has been agitating for a new state of Gorkhaland in east India, said: "The central government will now have to give us Gorkhaland. They cannot deny our old and justified demand. We will intensify our agitation."
K Nageshwar, a political analyst based in Hyderabad, said the Congress revived the Telangana statehood issue to win votes.
"Clearly they want to reap the political harvest when the emotional fervour is at its height," Mr Nageshwar said yesterday. "In the elections next year, they can capitalise on this emotion."
In trying to secure the Telangana vote, Mr Nageshwar added, the Congress would lose ground in the remainder of Andhra Pradesh.
"But in any case, they were slipping in those areas," he said.
Andhra Pradesh holds 42 seats out of the 543 elective seats in the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament.
No announcement has been made about how these seats will be divided between Telangana and Seemandhra, but a Telangana state will help the Congress consolidate its support in the region and assure it of electoral successes there.
Mr Nageshwar said one of the major bones of contention would be the fate of Hyderabad.
A centre of technology and industry, Hyderabad is an economic powerhouse. At present, 40 per cent of Andhra Pradesh's sales and petroleum taxes come from Hyderabad, as does half of all stamp and registration duty revenues.
Political parties in Telangana, such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), have argued that Hyderabad should belong to the new state, since it falls squarely within the geography of Telangana.
"On the question of Hyderabad there is no question of any compromise," Keshav Rao, one of the leaders of the TRS, said yesterday evening. "Hyderabad should be the capital of Telangana."
The division of the state requires ratification by the cabinet and by both houses of parliament, but the bill to create Telangana state is not expected to face difficulty, with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party saying yesterday that it would vote for the move.