MPs quit India Congress party over state row

India’s ruling Congress party has suffered another setback after nine of its members of parliament resigned in protest at New Delhi’s failure to carve a new state of Telangana from the existing state of Andhra Pradesh.

The resignation on Monday of the nine MPs from the Telangana region has roughly halved the size of the Congress-led coalition’s parliamentary majority at a time when the administration of Manmohan Singh is fighting to regain the initiative aftercorruption scandals.

“It is a serious headache, among a whole lot of other headaches,” said E. Sridharan, director of an institute for the study of India at Pennsylvania university in the US.

Besides the MPs, 73 members of the Andhra Pradesh state legislative assembly – including 39 Congress members, of whom 11 are ministers in the state cabinet – also resigned, highlighting the strength of local feeling about the Telangana issue.

Last year, violent protests by both supporters and opponents of separate statehood for Telangana paralysed the city of Hyderabad, the Indian base for many global software companies, including Microsoft and Google.

“It is a very serious situation – it has been simmering for one and a half years and it is about to boil over,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, a Delhi university political analyst.

The Congress-led government will not collapse as a result of the resignations but Mr Rangarajan warned that the Telangana protest, and the possible collapse of the Andhra Pradesh state government, would be a distraction for the Congress before the monsoon session of parliament.

With 33 seats in parliament, Andhra Pradesh has been a bastion of support for the Congress in elections, giving the state a special significance to the party. But the issue of the state’s impoverished, water-scarce Telangana region poses a tough political challenge for the party.

Telangana residents are united in their belief that statehood will bring greater economic development to their region. But residents of Andhra Pradesh’s more affluent regions are strongly opposed to any partition.

Congress bolstered Telangana supporters’ hopes last year, when it pledged to start the process of state creation. But it then backpedalled and established a committee to study the pros and cons of a separate Telangana state.

That committee submitted its report in December but the government has yet to make any further move on the issue, and Mr Rangarajan said the government would now have to “take a view.”

P. Chidambaram, India’s home minister, on Monday sought to play down the impact of the resignations, explaining that the government was seeking a consensus on the contentious issue.

“There is no need to be alarmed,” he said. “The resignations did not come as a surprise to us ... We are trying to work out a consensus ... these are complex and extremely serious issues ... one has to show understanding and patience.”

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