The Congress cannot readily support the UP demand without further
queering the pitch in Andhra Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, has time and again
shown that she possesses one of the shrewdest political brains in the
country. Her latest proposal, to carve up Uttar Pradesh into four
smaller states, is a political masterstroke that has unsettled the
Opposition in the run-up to the early-2012 polls to the State
Assembly. With the exception of the Samajwadi Party – which has
opposed the division, given the potentially disastrous break-up of its
caste and community-based vote bank – the mainstream national parties
(Congress and the BJP) have been forced into an uncomfortable corner.
Ideologically and politically, they may not be opposed to the
proposal; but openly declaring their support would only give Ms.
Mayawati the advantage she seeks in the upcoming elections. By moving
ahead, she has managed to shift the focus of the political debate to
State formation, and away from the issues of governance, development,
law and order, and siphoning of money in welfare schemes.
The Congress, in particular, is in a bind. As the principal ruling
party at the Centre, it cannot readily support the UP demand without
further queering the pitch in Andhra Pradesh, where the agitation for
a separate Telangana State has virtually paralysed the administration.
On the other hand, doing well in the UP elections is equally
important, since they could be the launch pad for Congress
heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi's move to a larger role at the national
level. A good show there – similar to the party's performance in the
2009 Lok Sabha polls – may, in fact, restore the legitimacy of a
beleaguered Government at the Centre. Who knows, the Assembly polls
could even give it a second wind and much-needed confidence to bring
economic reforms back on the agenda.
As regards UP's division, there is certainly a compelling economic
logic for it. Even after the formation of a separate Uttarakhand from
its erstwhile hill districts, the State sprawls over nearly 2.5 lakh
square kilometers, where some 200 million people live. On paper, the
creation of Pashchim Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh and
Poorvanchal should galvanise governance and focus policy attention to
the specific needs of these culturally, geographically and
economically diverse regions. In reality, though, the track record of
creating smaller States has been mixed. While some like Chhattisgarh
have done well in terms of attracting industry or even reforms of the
public distribution system, they have not been free of corruption and
governance-related problems. Moreover, they have also proved highly
inept in handling the growing challenge posed by Maoist insurgency.
But on the whole, the original logic for formation of States, based on
linguistic commonality, has clearly been rendered obsolete. That
definitely presents the case for a second States Reorganisation
Commission – following the first one constituted in 1953 – that would
examine these issues afresh.
(This article was published on November 17, 2011)
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