Heartland surgery

Mayawati's recent proposal to split Uttar Pradesh into four states revives an idea mooted on several occasions since Independence. In the 1956 report of the States Reorganisation Commission, K.M. Pannikar submitted a dissenting note, in which he suggested that the state of UP was too large to be properly governed and would command undue influence in the federation. Demands continued — in 1972, 14 MLAs moved a resolution for carving out three states; there have been demands for the creation of a Harit Pradesh in western UP and a movement for a separate state of Bundelkhand. However, as long as the Congress enjoyed a majority at the Centre and in UP, it was not keen to divide the state as it sent 85 MPs to Parliament, thereby ensuring a majority. The separation of the hill areas to form a separate state of Uttarakhand in 2000 was undertaken by the BJP-led NDA when it was in power at the Centre.

The idea of further dividing the plains area of UP was first put forward by Mayawati to the Central government on assuming power in 2007, and repeated on at least two subsequent occasions. She argued that UP has backward regions to which adequate attention has not been given, an argument that enabled her to obtain extra funds for development from the Centre. The BSP government has proposed that the state be divided into four parts: Paschim Pradesh made up of 17 districts in western UP, Poorvanchal with 28 districts in eastern UP, Avadh with 23 districts in central UP and Bundelkhand with 7 districts in south-west UP. The BSP has made this demand based on parameters that are often put forward by supporters of small states: faster economic development, greater participation and improved governance.

However, the timing — prior to assembly elections due early next year — points to political calculations underlying the demand by the astute BSP leader. Mayawati hopes to create embarrassment and trouble for the Congress-led UPA, which is already facing demands for separation in Telengana, Vidharbha and Gorkhaland among others, and has failed to find a solution. At the state level, the Congress, which is trying hard to improve its position and is viewed as one of the principal opponents of the BSP, would find it difficult to oppose the demand. Second, the BSP in the 2007 assembly elections obtained the highest number of seats in all the four regions: 53 out of 89 in western UP, 86 out of 158 in eastern UP, 49 out of 121 in Awadh and 27 out of 35 in Bundelkhand. As it is difficult for any political party to obtain a sizeable number of seats in all regions in UP, given its size and extreme diversity, the BSP with its improved base hopes to gain control over at least two if not three regions after the division. In a period of multi-partyism and coalition governments in which the support of regional/state parties is important, this would increase its clout in Parliament. However, such calculations presume that the BSP will perform well in the 2012 assembly elections and opposition parties will not be able to revive their social/regional bases. Finally, the BSP leader, by making this demand, hopes to deflect attention from her own record in office — the major target of the opposition parties in the election campaign.

A more fundamental question in this context is why states such as UP in the northern plains have not been able to create an identity that could hold them together in the manner of the southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu. A strong Hindi movement did sweep this region in the colonial period leading to the formation of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha, centred in Benares and Allahabad, which had members in UP and parts of MP. However, two factors did not allow this movement to bring the smaller cultural sub-regions of the state closer together. It had strong conservative overtones of "Hindi-Hindu", and was also elitist, most of its members being from the upper castes, an aspect that continued into the post-colonial period. Second, in the post-Independence period, Hindi language and literature was not supported and nurtured by the political leadership, in comparison to the southern states where language and culture received state patronage. In UP, support to Hindi became largely a tactical political strategy to obtain power. While many political leaders have insisted that the medium of instruction was to be Hindi, little attempt was made to improve literacy and educational standards. Similarly, little attention was paid to Urdu, which is spoken by a large section. Hence, UP could not develop over time a sense of cohesion and bonds that could have held it together better.

A case can be made for the division of UP based on its size, extreme density of population, poverty and economic backwardness, which has brought it BIMARU status. Its proponents point out that division could promote faster development, greater participation and closeness to government for its people. Pannikar had proposed that UP could be divided into two more-or-less equal parts by drawing a diagonal line separating western UP and Bundelkhand from the rest. However, much socio-economic change has taken place since — western UP has prospered from the Green Revolution while Bundelkhand remains an arid area with farmers committing suicide; central UP has moved ahead and the extreme poverty of eastern UP has been somewhat mitigated. UP could be reorganised in many ways: Bundelkand could form a state with Baghelkhand in MP, while eastern UP has much in common with neighbouring Bihar. Western UP with its more developed agriculture has features similar to those of the Punjab. Thus, the present suggestion of neatly carving UP into four states, while attractive, is simplistic and made by politicians with their own agenda. Considering the plethora of demands being raised, it is time for a Second States Reorganisation Commission that could suggest redrawing the map of India based on the criteria of economic viability and people's aspirations.

The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies, and rector, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

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