Pro-Telangana protesters in Hyderabad on Sunday. Picture by G Vijayalakshmi
Hyderabad, Sept. 30: A “million march” by about 50,000 Telangana activists led to a standoff here tonight, with the agitators refusing to leave the rally venue and threatening a Tahrir Square-style occupation and the police replying to their stones with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
A partial breakthrough took shape around 10pm, however, with the 17 Telangana Rashtra Samiti MLAs leaving the venue, saying they did not agree with movement spearhead Telangana Joint Action Committee’s decision to occupy the spot indefinitely till an announcement on statehood.
But action committee leaders were still on the dais late tonight along with some BJP and CPI lawmakers, while about 5,000 agitators continued to occupy the venue — a stretch of Necklace Road on the Husseinsagar lake’s banks near the secretariat.
The police action seemed to have dispersed the rest of the marchers — activists from the Telangana districts who had been let in selectively over the past two days at the 50-odd check posts cordoning the city.
Officers spoke of plans to talk to the agitators’ leader, action committee chairman M. Kodandaram, and persuade him to call off the occupation.
The protest had begun at 3pm with the activists marching from their makeshift camps across the city to the venue of the rally, which was scheduled to end at 7pm.
But Kodandaram changed his mind, apparently angered by the police’s caning and tear-gassing of marchers during street skirmishes that left a railway station partially torched and several police and TV channel vehicles damaged.
He announced at 7pm that the activists would not budge. “We are ready to launch an Egypt-like agitation till the state and central governments grant Telangana,” he said.
Kodandaram also demanded the release of all the activists from the districts who had been taken into preventive custody.
After allowing several thousand activists to enter Hyderabad on Friday and Saturday, the police today refused to let in any more citing intelligence inputs about a possible Maoist infiltration. All train and bus services to the city too were stopped for the day.
Theatres, restaurants and shops stayed closed under government orders within 10km of Husseinsagar. The fears of violence had a basis: during another “million march” two years ago, mobs had wrecked statues of leaders near the secretariat and spread panic on the streets.
However, no major violence was reported today apart from pitched battles, during which mobs stoned the locked-down secretariat, two lakeside hotels, police cars and TV channels’ OB vans.
State police chief Dinesh Reddy and other senior officers made aerial surveys of the city. Choppers fitted with high-resolution cameras flew low over Osmania University, once the hub of the statehood movement, where students fought the police who confined them to the campus.
Police video clippings of the march have been sent to the Union home ministry so that it can assess the gravity of the situation.
The day’s detentions prompted some Congress lawmakers and ministers from the Telangana region to twice stage dharnas in front of the chief minister’s office before the police removed them.
Revolutionary balladeer Gaddar and Telangana Rashtra Samiti MP and actress Vijayshanti joined the day’s programme.