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Derailed by Andhra ire

New Delhi, Feb. 12: The UPA looked besieged from within in the Lok Sabha today. Four ministers trooped to the well to join the anti-Telangana protest that forced rail minister Mallikarjun Kharge to cut short his interim rail budget speech.

While the four ministers from Seemandhra protested against their own government, a set of MPs formed a ring around Kharge to ensure the agitators did not snatch the budget papers.

The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi watched on as the ministers and the MPs kicked up a ruckus in the last session before the general election.

The ministers who rushed to the well were K.S. Rao (textiles), K. Chiranjeevi (tourism), D. Purandeswari (junior commerce minister) and K. Surya Prakash Reddy (junior rail minister). HRD minister Pallam Raju stood up from his seat to protest.

Telangana agitators have been stalling Parliament from Day 1. But ministers, including some of cabinet rank, joining over 30 Andhra MPs in the well came as an embarrassment to the government. The ministers said they were waging a “final battle” to stop the bifurcation of Andhra.

The ruckus forced Kharge to end his budget speech abruptly. He braved the din and started reading but gave up in 15 minutes, skipping pages to read the last paragraph. The speech was taken as read and the Lok Sabha adjourned for the day.

Kharge had to stop after TDP legislator Naramalli Shivaprasad snatched pens and paper from Lok Sabha staffers recording Parliament proceedings and climbed on the table in front of the Speaker. He then began tearing paper and flinging them in the air. Soon, there was a scuffle between two members for and against Telangana. A physical fight was averted by the intervention of senior members.

The situation was so tense that Congress MPs formed a protective ring around Kharge. One junior rail minister, Surya Prakash Reddy, joined the protest, but another, Adhir Chowdhury, stood by to protect Kharge.

The Prime Minister said: “My heart bleeds to see what is happening in the House. It is sad for democracy that such things are happening even after appeals for calm.”

The ministers who joined the protest justified themselves by accusing the government of unfairly dividing Andhra.

“My heart bleeds too. You can’t divide the state because of a few seats or political advantage. The division of Andhra will lead to the division of the country in pieces,” textiles minister Rao said.

HRD minister Raju termed the Prime Minister’s disapproval unfair. He said the protests were an outcome of pressure from the people.

“I don’t think the comment is fair. Whatever happened today was not an isolated incident. It has been happening in the House. The government’s move to divide Andhra is unfair,” Raju said.

The Telangana bill is slated to be taken up in the Lok Sabha tomorrow. The Congress yesterday expelled six Andhra MPs who have been protesting against Telangana.

Trinamul and AIADMK members rushed to the well just before the House adjourned to protest against Bengal and Tamil Nadu being ignored in the rail budget. CPM MPs from Bengal protested against rapes.