HYDERABAD, Jun 2 – Celebrations erupted in southern India to mark Monday’s creation of the new state of Telangana, the culmination of a campaign stretching back nearly six decades.
Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, who at one stage went on hunger strike as part of the push to create India’s 29th state, was sworn in as chief minister during a morning ceremony in Hyderabad.
Rao raised the Indian flag, waved to crowds from an open top jeep and inspected troops during a ceremony at a parade ground.
“People of Telangana are looking forward to a progressive and development-oriented state. We will work in that direction and ensure a transparent administration,” Rao said, addressing the ceremonial parade.
He also vowed to root out corruption and work for the disadvantaged sections of the society.
Residents began celebrating on the stroke of midnight when the state came into being, with a fireworks display lighting up the skies over the city. Crowds took to the streets, waving flags and cheering.
Families also gathered near the historic Charminar monument and cut a giant cake to mark the “birthday” of the new state.
The roads leading to the Telangana secretariat in Hyderabad were decorated with cutouts of the new chief minister, bright pink bunting and balloons.
India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Rao, promising his “complete support to the people & Government of Telangana” in a message on Twitter.
“India gets a new state! We welcome Telangana as our 29th state. Telangana will add strength to our development journey in the coming years,” Modi added.
“Telangana’s birth comes after years of struggle and sacrifices by several people. We pay our respects to them today.”
Telangana has been carved out of an impoverished northern area of Andhra Pradesh state. Hyderabad, an IT hub home to giants Google and Microsoft, will serve as the capital of both states for the next decade.
The campaign to create a separate state in one of India’s most economically deprived regions began in the late 1950s, with its champions arguing the region has been neglected by successive state governments.
However wealthier coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh fiercely opposed the split, fearing that it would trigger economic upheaval.
Nagesh Kumar, a political analyst based in Hyderabad, said the task was now cut out for Rao to deliver on the promises he made to the people during his campaign for a new state.
“Right from the start he has to make noises about how he plans to create new jobs,” Kumar told AFP.
“The TRS must evolve itself (into) a party that is capable of social reform and more importantly economic reconstruction. The expectations of the people are very high,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister resigned earlier this year on the eve of a vote by parliament to approve Telangana’s creation.
The build-up to the vote was marred by chaotic scenes in parliament, with lawmakers coming to blows while one representative even squirted pepper spray at colleagues.
Analysts had seen the decision by the then-Congress government to back the state’s creation as a strategic move designed to increase its support in the south in a general election year.
However Congress won only two of the 42 seats in the undivided Andhra Pradesh when the election results were announced last month.
“Congress fulfilled its promise (to create the state), but it suffered a political defeat,” Digvijay Singh, a Congress leader, told CNN-IBN.
“We want both states to work together.”
Andhra Pradesh, created in 1956, was India’s first state to be set up on grounds of a shared language and laid down a precedent for establishing states along linguistic lines.
India last redrew its internal boundaries in 2000, with the creation of three new states in economically deprived areas in the north.
Critics say the bill creating Telangana could open a “Pandora’s box” of demands for statehood by other regional groups in the ethnically diverse nation, which also has a host of separatist movements.
Among the first in line would be a tea-growing area of West Bengal where ethnic Nepalis have waged a long and sometimes violent campaign for a state called Gorkhaland.