Thousands of striking electrical workers have shut down power plants for a third day in Andhra Pradesh, leaving large swaths of the southern Indian state in darkness. The blackouts have crippled hospitals, train services, ATMs, and caused fuel and drinking water shortages. IT staffers and ER surgeons alike have been working in darkness, and an indefinite curfew has been imposed on parts of the state rocked by several days of violent protests.
At the heart of the furor: Telangana, India’s would-be newest state. In July, India’s ruling Congress party announced plans to form Telangana, a region of Andhra Pradesh where a statehood movement has been brewing for years. The decision has deeply divided the region into supporters and critics of the breakoff. The latter, who include the striking electrical workers, are worried about losing their state capital, Hyderabad, which would fall under Telangana’s jurisdiction — and take a lot of money and political sway with it.
In India, statehood was once based on language and cultural identity, but the country has gotten into the habit of splitting states up to make them easier to govern. That was the idea behind Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, both formed in 2000. Telangana, too, was envisaged with better government in mind — but the announcement of its formation comes in the run up to an election. Andhra Pradesh sends 42 parliamentarians to India’s lower house. Almost half of the constituencies they represent are in Telangana. Many therefore see the Congress Party’s move as a bald bid to appease separatists and boost parliamentary support ahead of national elections scheduled for 2014.
Telangana is not a state yet — it’s formalization still has to go through a few rounds of parliamentary votes and questions about the central government’s ability to push ahead are being asked. The creation of Telangana is no small thing — it would be home to more people than most countries in the world, including Canada, Malaysia or Iraq. Some worry that if protests over its formation continue, law enforcement attention in the state will be diverted from controlling a long-simmering Maoist insurgency, giving space to weakened extremists to once again gather strength.
Others argue that the national economy, already floundering, has the most to lose. Hyderabad, Telangana’s would-be capital, is a high-tech hub and home to the India operations of global corporations like Google and Microsoft. In 2009, the World Bank named Hyderabad the second best city to do business in in India. If Telangana forms only to dissolve into instability, domestic and foreign companies are not going to stick around. And if that happens, it’s not just the people of Andhra Pradesh who will be left in the dark.