Amidst attacks by suspected pro-Telangana elements, a large number of Government employees from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions congregated today for a rally, where speakers asked the Congress to rescind the move to bifurcate the State or face political consequences.
The rally at the sprawling Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium here, organised by Andhra Pradesh Non-Gazetted Officers Association (APNGOs), coincided with a bandh in Telangana, from where stray incidents of violence were reported.
The shutdown, called by groups backing the proposed division of Andhra Pradesh and formation of separate Telangana, was near total in the region while it evoked mixed response in Hyderabad, whose status is a bone of contention between united AP and Telangana supporters.
All eyes were on the "Save Andhra Pradesh" rally, where speakers issued a stern warning to Congress and asked the party to drop its July 30 decision to bifurcate the State or get ready to face political consequences.
The participants demanded that all Union Ministers and MPs from Andhra-Rayalaseema regions quit their posts forthwith to stall the bifurcation process.
Vowing they would not accept the bifurcation, APNGOs said they would undertake a "Million March" in Secunderabad if the Centre did not stop the process to divide Andhra Pradesh.
According to some estimates, the rally was attended by about one lakh employees, some of them from Telangana, but police put the figure at 35,000 to 40,000.
"Our resolve is to have a unified state. Bifurcation is detrimental to everyone," speakers said at the event.
"The ongoing movement in Andhra-Rayalaseema for a united state is next only to India's freedom struggle. It's the movement led by the people, of the people and for the people," APNGOs Association President P Ashok Babu said.
The division would have a severe negative impact on employees, students and State Road Transport Corporation workers, he claimed.
"Government employees are on strike for the past 30 days, even foregoing their salaries. They are voluntarily taking part in the strike to save Andhra Pradesh from getting divided," he added.
In the morning, pro-Telangana supporters pelted stones on policemen and employees from Andhra-Rayalaseema regions in a bid to thwart the rally.
Meanwhile, Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anurag Sharma said 366 bandh supporters were taken into preventive custody and released later.
Ashok Babu said people were the ultimate judge and they themselves would decide whether or not the state should be bifurcated.
The APNGOs leader noted that the claims of Telangana protagonists over jobs and other issues were proved wrong.
"The Justice Srikrishna Committee that looked into the statehood demand clearly established that the claims made by Telangana leaders against Seemandhra people had no merit." Ashok Babu noted that the Congress was now stuck in a position wherein it could neither go forward nor backward on the bifurcation following the non-stop agitation by people from Seemandhra that began on July 31.
Employees' leaders representing different departments and some eminent people from Andhra-Rayalaseema also addressed the rally. Political leaders were kept away from the meeting following restrictions imposed by Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The pro-Telangana elements tried to prevent the unified state protagonists from going ahead with the meet.
Several pro-Telangana elements, posing as students, gathered in the Nizam College hostel building near the stadium, and hurled stones at employees from Seemandhra, who were on their way to the rally, police sources said.
Police, who entered the hostel building to disperse the violent mob, were greeted with stones. Police lobbed teargas shells as Telangana activists rained stones on them, leaving at least three policemen injured. Two press photographers were also injured in stone-pelting, they said.
Barring stray incidents of violence, the bandh in Telangana was largely peaceful. Overall the situation remained peaceful in the State, Additional Director General (Law and Order) V S K Kaumudi told PTI.
The bandh was called to protest police decision to deny permission to pro-Telangana groups to hold a 'peace rally' today while giving their nod to the APNGOs meet.
A police constable, Srinivas, a native of Medak district, raised 'Jai Telangana' slogans near the dais of APNGOs meeting. He was immediately whisked away by security forces, police said.
Scores of pro-Telangana activists, who tried to disrupt the rally, were taken into preventive custody and later released, DCP V B Kamalasan Reddy said, adding the meeting passed off peacefully.
Trouble started at the Osmania University campus when pro-Telangana students argued with police after being stopped from taking out a march from the varsity to the stadium, the venue of APNGOs meeting.
The students then tried to remove barricades placed near one of the university gates and started hurling stones at police, a senior officer said.
Police fired at least eight rounds of teargas shells and dispersed the agitating students, the officer said, adding four students were taken into custody.
The Road Transport Corporation buses did not ply and most of the schools remained shut in the region in response to the bandh. Telangana protagonists staged dharna, rasta roko and other forms of protests in the region.
Elaborate security arrangements were made to maintain peace. Police pickets were posted at all important Government institutions in Hyderabad, the city's police chief added.
The Telangana supporters took out eight rallies, tried to close down business establishments in 19 localities, burnt effigies at six places and staged dharna at four places, the Police Commissioner added.