India chief minister quits in row over new state

NEW DELHI - The chief minister of an Indian state quit on Wednesday in protest at a contentious bill to split his state in two, a plan which triggered chaotic scenes in parliament.

Lawmakers in the lower house on Tuesday passed the bill to carve a new state called Telangana out of the existing southern state of Andhra Pradesh, amid uproar from opposing MPs that saw a blackout of televised proceedings.

With the bill now set to go to the upper house, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy announced he was stepping down "with heavy heart" over the move to create the country's 29th state.

Reddy slammed as shameful lawmakers' behaviour in pushing through the bill without proper debate, and also attacked the decision to cut the live TV feed during the vote.

MPs were "robbers, hiding from people, putting off TV, throwing out those who were objecting", Reddy was quoted as saying by NDTV in the state capital of Hyderabad.

He accused the ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party of supporting the bill merely to win votes in the general election due in May.

Analysts say the Congress-led government has decided to move on Telangana ahead of the polls to try to win crucial support in the tribal and drought-prone districts that will form the new state.

Supporters have campaigned for 53 years for economically deprived Telangana, which they say has been neglected by successive state governments.

Wealthier coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh have fiercely opposed the split because they say it would create economic upheaval.

Hyderabad, an IT hub home to giants Google, Microsoft and Dell, will serve as joint capital of both states for at least the next 10 years.

The intensity of the anger over Telangana was apparent in parliament in New Delhi last week when lawmakers exchanged blows, tried to destroy equipment and pepper-sprayed the chamber as the bill was introduced.

Some 17 MPs were suspended over the mayhem which saw legislators opposed to Telangana trying to rip out the speaker's microphone, smashing a glass table and ripping up papers.

One MP unleashed a can of capsicum spray, prompting a rush for the exit.

On Tuesday the TV broadcast of proceedings was suddenly halted shortly before the vote on the bill, amid fears there would be a repeat of the chaos and it would be shown live.

Officials quoted in the Indian media on Wednesday blamed the cut to the feed on a "technical glitch" but others said orders had been given to halt it.