Two Indian ministers quit over plans to split southern state

NEW DELHI Fri Oct 4, 2013 8:29am EDT

A view of the Indian parliament building is seen in New Delhi July 21, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

A view of the Indian parliament building is seen in New Delhi July 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Two Indian ministers resigned on Friday over a cabinet decision to create a new state, the latest bout of infighting that threatens to weaken the ruling Congress party in the run-up to elections due by next May.

The walkouts were sparked by the move to split the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, a growing hub for Western IT giants, and create a new state called Telangana.

Pallam Raju, minister for human resources and development, and K. Chiranjeevi, a former film star who is junior minister for tourism, handed in their notice, officials at their ministries told Reuters. Both are from Andhra Pradesh.

"It is a very sad day for Andhra Pradesh, and I'm hurt and aggrieved at the way the decision has been rushed to bifurcate the state," Raju told reporters.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must sign off on the resignations before they become official, and he might yet persuade the pair to stay put.

Two other ministers have also offered to resign, according to media reports, but their ministries could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

The Congress party approved the creation of Telangana in July, a move that fanned the embers of political divisions within the state and raised fears of violence. The cabinet cleared the proposal on Thursday.

Supporters of the move say the Telangana region's economic development has been neglected in favor of the richer and more powerful coastal region of Andhra.

The booming state capital, Hyderabad, where Google has its Indian headquarters, and where Microsoft and Dell also have large offices, will remain the common capital for the two states for 10 years.

Critics say the Congress party had long resisted calls for a new state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh, and only took the step now to win votes in the coming elections.

Another rift within the party was exposed last week over an executive order passed by the cabinet to protect politicians convicted of crimes. Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads the party, slammed that move and the cabinet subsequently dropped the order in an embarrassing u-turn.

Jagan Mohan Reddy, the leader of a breakaway Congress party that enjoys wide support in coastal Andhra Pradesh, said he would go on hunger strike to protest against the creation of the new state.

"Is it right on anybody's part to split the state just for the sake of votes and seats?" he said on Friday.

Andhra Pradesh first came into existence after a hunger strike. Potti Sriramulu, a follower of India's revered freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, died in 1952 after a two-month fast for the creation of the state.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Nick Macfie)

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