Hyderabad: Violent clashes between a group of protestors and the police in Andhra Pradesh’s Amalapuram city Tuesday, also saw the residences of state transport minister P. Vishwarup and member of legislative assembly (MLA) P.Satish’s homes being set ablaze, allegedly by the agitators. The minster’s family had already been escorted to a safer place. It is not known whether the MLA’s family had been at home, but according to police sources, no one from either family was injured.
The agitators were protesting against the Andhra government’s decision to rename the state’s newly-created Konaseema district after Dr B.R. Amdedkar.
According to police sources, at least seven vehicles — including a police vehicle and a bus owned by an educational institution — were set ablaze in Tuesday’s violence.
Home Minister Taneti Vanitha also told the media that twenty policemen have been injured in the clashes. She added that the violence was unfortunate and police will take strict action against perpetrators.
“The decision to rename the district was taken after careful consideration and keeping in view everyone’s demands — not just of the people, but also opposition parties — who wanted it to be renamed after Ambedkar,” Vanitha said Tuesday.
The decision to name Konaseema, a new district carved out of the East Godavari district in April, had been taken earlier this month. The district had been created as part of a reorganisation process by the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government, for ‘better administration and governance’, which saw the number of districts in the state go up to 26 from the earlier 13. The reorganisation had been done based on the division of parliamentary constituencies.
There had been protests earlier too in some parts of the state against the renaming of districts during the reorganisation, but none of them had been violent.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s violence has started a political blame game between the government and the opposition, with the state transport minister alleging that opposition party’s junior cadres were involved in the incident.
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‘Stones pelted at police’
In March, even before the district had been formally designated, Dalit organisations had demanded that it be named after Ambedkar. At the time, however, the government chose to name it Konaseema.
Nearly 45 days after the district had been created though, the state government decided to rename it after Ambedkar, sparking protests by some other groups, especially in the district’s Amalapuram city.
Konaseema was formed keeping the Amalapuram Lok Sabha constituency — reserved for candidates from the scheduled castes community — in mind. A significant majority of the population here are from the SC community.
Protestors led by organisations such as Konaseema Parirakshana Samithi, the Konaseema Sadhana Samiti and the Konaseema Udyama Samiti, planned a rally to the District Collectorate Tuesday.
Expecting minor disturbances, the police had already set up check posts and deployed security near the Collector’s office, Director General of Police Rajendranath Reddy, later told the media.
“We did allow 12 people to go meet the collector, but more wanted to get inside and police objected to it and that led to clashes between both. Stones were pelted at the police, several of them (officers) were injured, and police had to resort to lathi charge and ultimately shots were fired in air to get the situation under control,” Reddy told a regional channel.
Following the incident, hundreds of policemen from neighbouring East Godavari, West Godavari and Vishakapatanam districts are being deployed in Amalapuram. Around three-hundred of Andhra’s special police services are also being deployed, he added.
“We suspect that the crowd that was mobilised was mostly from the Amalapuram Municipality area,” said the DGP.
Sources from the police department told ThePrint that CCTV visuals will be monitored to nab the culprits. Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (prohibit on public gathering) has been imposed in the area.
Minister, opposition blame each other
Transport minister Pinipe Vishawrup blamed the opposition parties for the violence, alleging that the top leaders of these parties stayed away and sent ground cadres to the protests.
“Government had given everyone a time frame of 30 days to file their objections at the nearest mandal eevenue office in relation to this renaming. If someone had an issue, they could go to their nearest MRO office, why burn my house? This is highly condemnable. I have already requested people to stay calm and have little patience in this issue,” Vishwarup told a regional channel.
The minister added: “Telugu Desam (Party) demanded that Konaseema should be renamed after Ambedkar, questioning if YSRCP (Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, the ruling party in Andhra) needs just votes of dalits and does not do anything for them? TDP said they would do it after they come to power if we do not do it now. Now the leaders are not coming forward, but sending their ground cadre for such clashes.”
He also added that actor-turned politician Pawan Kalyan’s Janasena and the BJP too wanted it to be named after Ambedkar.
Meanwhile, TDP Chief and former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has strongly condemned the manner in which the Telugu Desam Party was being blamed for the apparent failures of the government.
In a statement released by his office, Naidu claimed that the government and the police were totally responsible for Tuesday’s violence in Konaseema and said everyone should cooperate till normalcy is restored in the trouble-hit area.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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