Maya's bold gamble
Saturday, 19 November 2011 21:24
Mayawati's proposal to divide Uttar Pradesh into four parts might have
political connotations, but one can hardly question the need to
downsize the country's most populous State. Utpal Kumar, however,
feels the UPA Government should tread cautiously on setting up of a
second State Reorganisation Commission
Uttar Pradesh, as we know it today, has always been a piece of land
that enlarged or shrank, got reorganised or renamed at the whims of
its rulers. From time immemorial till the advent of the gora Company,
the region continued to stir up the imagination of the powers that be.
Worse, however, happened after Independence when Awadh — as the region
was traditionally called then — simply vanished as a name and a place
from the map of India. The new, native rulers of Delhi decided to call
it Uttar Pradesh — a lame imitation of what the British termed the
United Provinces. And, the State which emerged was a sorry replication
of India with its diversity, but bereft of any connecting links.
Perhaps it satisfied the ego of the then Prime Minister, known for his
democratic pretensions; he incidentally belonged to the same State
(till date Uttar Pradesh has given eight out of 14 Prime Ministers).
The fascination of the ruling class with this part of the country,
however, didn't stop there. In 2000, the uttar (north) of Uttar
Pradesh flew away to form the hill State of Uttarakhand. Yet, the
State remained unwieldy, underdeveloped and overpopulated, waiting to
be restructured again. This time for effective governance, perhaps.
So when Chief Minister Mayawati suggested the division of Uttar
Pradesh into four smaller States — Purvanchal (eastern UP),
Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh (central UP) and Paschim Pradesh (western
UP) — and declared that the proposal would be sent to the Centre for
its consent, there seemed a consensus that the federal unit was
waiting for long to be downsized. Also, it was hardly surprising as
the creation of a State in India had no economic or administrative
rationale, and was merely the outcome of historical accidents or
colonial legacies. Post-Independence, linguistic considerations have
unnecessarily been brought in.
A political move
Timing, however, makes one apprehensive of the move. In the backdrop
of the Assembly elections next year, experts believe Mayawati's main
objective is to woo the electorate in these specific regions. They say
it's a political gimmick aimed at diverting people's attention from
issues of corruption and law and order. After all, the division of
Uttar Pradesh doesn't seem imminent as both Houses of Parliament have
to ratify the resolution once it is adopted by the State Assembly.
Since the Winter Sessions of Parliament and Assembly begin almost
simultaneously, it is highly improbable that the resolution will be
introduced in Parliament before the Budget Session. This makes the
division unfeasible, at least till the elections.
It seems Mayawati wanted to seize the initiative on the issue, besides
putting her opponents in a state of tizzy. One wonders how the
Samajwadi Party, after viciously opposing the BSP move, will be able
to convince its supporters (quite sizeable in number) in Bundelkhand
who have for long been clamouring for a separate political entity.
Also, it is possible that in Mayawati's calculations, the BSP stands a
better prospect in contesting from four States where, given the even
distribution of the Dalit support base (20 per cent and above) across
all of them, the party is bound to win from one or the other compared
to the inevitable defeat in undivided Uttar Pradesh. Maybe she thought
it was wise to rule a small State or two than to lose everything at
As for her rivals, the Samajwadi Party is fuming over Mayawati's
latest move. This is understandable as Mulayam Singh Yadav's fellow
caste men are most dominant in Paschim Pradesh, with Ajit Singh's
Rashtriya Lok Dal tailing a close second. Now, in a single stroke,
Mayawati has confined her two rivals to fight with each other in a
State where the BSP has little stake, leaving the party at ease in the
other three zones.
For now, however, Mayawati's concerns are immediate — she just wants
to win the Assembly elections. The BSP chief has, therefore, decided
to work on demands that have arisen from different parts of the State
from time to time. For instance, both the people of the prosperous
western part of the State as well as the desperately poor Bundelkhand
have for years desired breaking away from the behemoth called Uttar
Pradesh. If the proponents of Paschim Pradesh feel they could plough
the wealth they generate into their own region without having to
subsidise the more backward eastern and southern parts, those in
Bundelkhand believe that Statehood might rescue the region from the
neglect and indifference it has suffered under successive regimes. As
a pre-election gambit, the plan serves the purpose of sending out a
message to Jats of western Uttar Pradesh — mostly the supporters of
Ajit Singh who tend to be inimical to Yadavs and Dalits — that it's
their supposed enemy party that is trying to fulfill their aspiration
for Statehood. In Bundelkhand, the story is different. This is a BSP
stronghold where Rahul Gandhi has spent a great deal of time. The move
attempts to negate the Congress impact whatsoever.
Small is beautiful, but...
India today consists of 28 States. But what is puzzling is the
contrast between one federal unit and the other. While Uttar Pradesh
has over 200 million people, more than Brazil, Russia or Pakistan,
there are States like Sikkim with just 0.6 million people, Mizoram 1.1
million and Arunachal Pradesh 1.3 million. Clearly, Statehood in the
country is determined by political expediency.
"The creation of most States in the Northeast had no justification
except the politics of tribal-ethnic identity. These States were
financially unviable as almost 80 per cent of their budgetary outlays
depended on transfers from the Centre while only 20 per cent of the
revenue was locally generated," says MP Singh, an authority on
federalism. Prof BB Kumar, the author of Small States Syndrome in
India, agrees with him. Citing his three-decade-long experience in the
Northeast, he says, "Such States have failed to develop themselves
despite getting most favourable per capita plan and non-plan grants.
And, it's hardly surprising as more than 80 per cent of the budget is
eaten up by the salary and perks of the employees. Nagaland, for
example, had five seats in the Assam Assembly and about a dozen
ministers just after Independence. Now it has a 60-member State
Assembly and more than half the MLAs are ministers. The Northeast,
with about three per cent population of the country, has more than 450
MLAs and 200 ministers."
The logic is simple: If a State is too small, it could make the Centre
financially bleed for its survival. And if it's too big, it makes the
administration a tedious affair. So, ideally, a State should be
smaller, but not so small as to become a liability on the Centre, as
has been the case with the Northeastern States.
On the positive side, smaller States are homogeneous. That makes them
easier to administer, besides ensuring that Governments are closer to
And even when there is corruption, the leakage is mostly spent within
a smaller area and, therefore, consequent multiplier benefits tend to
be local. No wonder, smaller States in general perform better than
larger ones. Just look at Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and
Kerala. Interestingly, when a State is bifurcated, not only does the
relatively smaller State improve its performance, so does the
relatively larger one. Earlier, think of Gujarat/Maharashtra and
Punjab/Haryana. In recent times, think of Uttarakhand/Uttar Pradesh,
Bihar/Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh.
There is an added advantage of a new State: It ensures the development
of infrastructure becomes more broad-based. This means four States in
today's Uttar Pradesh would have four capitals, with attention
lavished on each. So, the region will have more to look after than
just Lucknow, which currently holds on to a disproportionate
allocation of the State's munificence.
Looking for sustainable state
All these aspects are fine, but the entire exercise becomes
meaningless if the Government ignores the viability angle of
Statehood. Will the new federal unit survive on its own? Or, will it
only bleed the Central coffer?
Of the four proposed States, Bundelkhand is a basket case. It is the
region where the Congress' loan waiver scheme did not work well. But
this was bound to happen as the scheme — meant for farmers with
landholdings of up to five acres — did not take into account the
differences in the quality of the land in different regions. In
western Uttar Pradesh a farmer with five acres is relatively
prosperous, but in Bundelkhand a farmer with that much land might just
starve. But then that's what happens when planning is done from the
top without any input from the bottom.
Presently, half of Bundelkhand is in Uttar Pradesh (Jhansi, Banda,
Jalaun, Chitrakoot, Mahoba, Hamirpur and Lalitpur districts), and the
remaining in Madhya Pradesh (Datia, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna,
Sagar and Damoh districts). This dichotomy has existed since
Independence and during the past six decades, the socio-political
orientations of the two parts have only got distinct. The only meeting
ground today between the two halves is poverty, backwardness and
drought. So, raising the identity issue to demand a separate State is
erroneous. If anything, what unites them all is poverty.
Bundelkhand is as much the victim of nature as it is of political
indifference. A predominantly farm-based region, it is way too
dependent on monsoon. And the region has not received sufficient
rainfall during the last five years. Incidentally, official records
show that Bundelkhand had only 12 years of drought in the 19th and
20th centuries. But the arid spell has already lasted five years this
Bundelkhand is a classic case of political indifference. Though the
Dalit population in the region is higher than the State average,
Mayawati finds more time for parks than water-starved fields. The
supplementary Budget of Rs 1,500 crore recently passed by the Assembly
sets aside Rs 500 crore for the Dalit Chief Minister's pet projects
while drought-hit Bundelkhand gets a meagre Rs 10 crore!
So, Bundelkhand would remain under the shadow of its three sister
States, particularly the prosperous Paschim Pradesh. And it would need
the Central assistance to sustain the heavy cost of administration.
Maybe that's the price the Union Government has to pay to uplift the
Opening a Pandora's box
There's, however, a bigger problem inadvertently created by Mayawati's
move. Grappling with the Telangana stir, the Congress-led UPA
Government is totally stumped by the recent development in Uttar
Pradesh. If it accepts the suggestion, then it will be difficult for
the party to deny the same rights to the people of Telangana. And if
it rejects the move, it may face a rejection in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress may, therefore, choose the easier option that will prove
disastrous in future — of establishing a second State Reorganisation
Commission on the lines of the one formed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953.
This may give the party some breathing space, especially on the issue
of Telangana. But it wouldn't prevent Mayawati from running away with
political kudos during the electoral campaign. Worse, the setting up
of the commission would open a flurry of regional demands, most of
The Congress is in a dilemma. But Mayawati can bask in the glory of
stumping the entire opposition with one googly. At least for the time
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