Lakhs of people took to the streets Friday at the start of a 72-hour shutdown in coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema regions to protest against the creation of a separate state of Telangana,a day after the Union Cabinet set in motion the process of splitting Andhra Pradesh.
Simultaneous protests broke out in cities and towns from Srikakulam in north coastal Andhra to Anantapur in Rayalaseema. All state and national highways were blocked,schools,colleges,businesses and government offices were shut,and protesters attacked the homes of lawmakers,asking them to resign.
Tensions ran high in Vijayawada where thousands of students came out to protest against the UPA government’s decision. Anger spilled on to the streets and massive protests were witnessed in Visakhapatnam,Vizianagaram,Srikakulam,Chittoor,Guntur,Anantapur,Kadapa and Kurnool.
The shutdown was total and was marred by sporadic incidents of violence. Seemandhra and the Andhra Pradesh Non-Gazetted Officers (APNGOs) Association president Ashok Babu warned that the protests could turn violent because of growing public anger.
Amid reports that union ministers M M Pallam Raju,Panabaka Lakshmi,K Sambasiva Rao,K Chiranjeevi,K J Surya Prakash Reddy and Killi Krupa Rani had resigned in protest,YSR Congress president Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy requested all elected representatives from Seemandhra to resign and create a constitutional crisis.
Jagan also announced an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the move.
Rajya Sabha MPs led by Renuka Chowdhury are also expected to resign Saturday.
Seemandhra Secretariat employees clashed with police and staged violent protests at the secretariat. Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy was closeted in a meeting with several MPs and MLAs at his residence until Friday evening. Sources said the CM was not available to Congress leaders from Delhi who tried to get in touch with him and privately expressed his strong displeasure at the way the Cabinet note on Telangana was pushed through.
Heavy police and paramilitary force was deployed in sensitive districts since Thursday night in anticipation of a violent backlash. Hundreds of people have been taken into custody for putting up road blocks and lighting fires on highways.
The house of state Congress chief Botsa Satyanarayana in Vizianagaram was attacked by protestors and police used tear gas to disperse them when they attacked his camp office. Police also baton charged the mob which pelted stones and damaged window panes of the building. The protesters also damaged five police vehicles.
People surrounded the homes of MPs and MLAs in many districts demanding they quit immediately. District Congress committee offices bore the brunt of the anger as mobs vandalized the premises and damaged furniture. Posters and statues of Rajiv Gandhi,Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were also vandalized.
Tension prevailed in Anantapur and Prakasam districts,where activists of YSR Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) clashed.
After a meeting at the CM’s house,Primary Education Minister Dr S Sailajanath said Congress MLAs from Seemandhra had decided not to resign from. The meeting was attended by 21 of the 23 ministers from Seemandhra.
By continuing as MLAs we will ensure that the resolution on Telangana is defeated in the state Assembly. Once we have done that all of us have resolved to resign en masse; the minister said.
Meanwhile,as public and private transport came to a halt,more than 40,000 pilgrims were stranded at the Tirumala Temple. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams was struggling to provide them accommodation and food.
While buses of the state-owned transport corporation have been off the roads for nearly two months due to the indefinite strike by employees,private vehicles were also taken off due to the shutdown,hurting commuters badly. The Seemandhra Lawyer Joint Action Committee (JAC) has also called a 48-hour-bandh in the 13 districts of Seemandhra and the APNGOs Association has called for 48-hour blockade of national highways.
As a result,traffic backed up on the crucial Vijayawada-Hyderabad NH 9. traffic from and to the neighbouring states of Karnataka,Tamil Nadu and Orissa also came to a halt.
Director General of Police B Prasada Rao rushed 2,500 paramilitary personnel to sensitive districts as the size and scale of protests escalated. Rao,who met the CM Friday evening,also ordered police and paramilitary forces not to open fire,not even use rubber bullets in the air or at protesters.