Creation of new Indian state revives old tensions

INDIA - The creation of a new state has revived longstanding demands for separate states in other parts of India, a potential distraction for the federal government which is trying to deal with pressing economic problems, analysts say.

The approval this week for Telangana to be carved out of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has been greeted with deadly clashes, flash strikes and political rabble-rousing by groups demanding separate states for themselves elsewhere in the country.

Such demands are back in at least five large, politically crucial states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Assam. Most of these campaigns are decades-old, and some in the past have turned violent.

Any sharp rise in social unrest now could dilute government focus on the economy, which is facing its worst growth worries in a decade, political analysts say. The government is wrestling with falling investments, a weakening rupee and large deficits in its cash management.

"I expect considerable social and political unrest in the coming days over the question of statehood," said political columnist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

"Attention is already diverting from economic issues."

The issue of splitting large states to create smaller ones is highly emotional and divisive. Advocates of smaller states say it helps improve governance. Those opposed say it worsens India's complicated political mosaic.

Parliament is expected to ratify Telangana as India's 29 state next month.

In signs of coming trouble, protesters in Assam, in India's restive north-east, clashed with police, leaving one person dead and scores injured on Wednesday. In West Bengal, activists demanding a separate state for the Gorkhas have called for an indefinite shutdown of the state's northern regions from today.

Politicians in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have also announced plans to intensify their campaigns for separate states.

Some of the states such as Assam and Uttar Pradesh face multiple statehood calls. Assam faces three separate statehood calls, including one by the indigenous Bodo people who once led an armed rebellion that killed thousands.

"After Telangana, people here feel (the government) should now resolve our issue," Mr Pramod Boro, a Bodo student leader, told reporters.

The Gorkhaland campaign in West Bengal's Darjeeling hills turned violent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its leaders are calling for a do-or-die movement now, unwilling to continue with an autonomy deal that had stopped the earlier bloodshed.

Statehood calls in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, two of India's largest states that have been divided once, have largely been non-violent.

Underlining the potential for political troubles from the creation of Telangana state, the move has already caused heartburn within Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party itself. The party is in power in Andhra Pradesh and a section of its lawmakers are opposing the bifurcation of the state, with 29 of them resigning on Friday.

Given their emotive nature, statehood demands could play into national elections due next May. But the clamour is unlikely to lead to a revival of armed movements, say analysts.

"There will be some disturbances like strikes, but nothing like what Telangana has seen," said Mr Y.P. Rajesh, associate editor with the Indian Express newspaper, referring to the region's six-decade-long struggle for a separate state.

Still, that may be enough to turn off investors, even if briefly. "Any political unrest now will only worsen the country's economic outlook," said Mr Thakurta.

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