NEW DELHI – India's parliament erupted in chaos on Thursday over a bill to create a new state, with angry MPs coming to blows, pulling out a microphone and pepper spraying the chamber, reports said.
Waving banners and shouting slogans, lawmakers disrupted the lower house of parliament as the Congress-led government introduced the contentious bill to create the new state called Telangana from an area in the existing state of Andhra Pradesh.
The chamber quickly descended into farce, as lawmakers opposed to the new state pulled out an official's microphone and one unleashed a can of capsicum spray, prompting a rush for the exit, TV channels reported.
Several lawmakers had to be taken to hospital suffering breathing problems, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Small fights also took place between MPs opposed to the bill and several trying to stop the chaos and restore order, as the parliament, known for its disruptions, was adjourned, the news agency said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath slammed the unrest as a "big blot on our parliamentary democracy", and called for the "strongest possible" action against the offending MPs.
"It is the most shameful day in our parliamentary history," Nath told reporters outside the parliament.
Seventeen MPs were later suspended by the speaker of the house over the unrest, which also saw several lawmakers ripping up official papers and one smashing a glass, PTI said.
Cabinet last week approved the controversial move to create Telangana from the existing southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, after a long and violent campaign.
Mainly tribal groups have demanded Telangana be carved out of a northern, impoverished and drought-prone part of Andhra Pradesh, which supporters say has long been neglected by successive state governments.
But wealthier regions of Andhra Pradesh, home to IT giants including Google and Microsoft, have strongly opposed the split because they say it would create economic upheaval.
Observers say plans for Telangana were made by the Congress government in hopes of winning much-needed votes in the region at the national elections in coming months.
But they warn the move may backfire amid an intensifying political battle in Andhra Pradesh.
Violent demonstrations have erupted there since Congress announced the move last July, while three federal ministers have resigned in protest.
Outside the parliament building on Thursday, ugly clashes broke out between supporters of the Telangana state and police, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
Police officers were seen dragging away protesters and bundling them into buses.
Congress has denied trying to seek any political advantage from splitting Andhra Pradesh, insisting it is trying to fulfil a long-standing pledge.