Division Of Uttar Pradesh: Good For National Parties; Not Too Good For Casteist Outfits
There can be absolutely no doubt that the abysmal performance of successive governments on various fronts can be attributed, in part, to the large and almost unwieldy size of the state.
If the BJP wishes to consolidate its hold on vast swathes of the Hindi-speaking belt, division of Uttar Pradesh might be the way to go.
In this piece, I would not be discussing the latest political developments in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Instead, the purpose of this article is to draw the attention of the reader to an issue that is not discussed as much as it should be – the administrative viability of the state as a single unit.
At the outset, let us have a look at some cold hard stats. The population of UP according to the 2011 census was 199,281,477. If it were an independent country, it would be the sixth most populous in the world. In contrast, the largest state in the United States of America, in terms of population i.e. California has a population of 39,250,417. Even Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Mulayam Singh Yadav, a multiple-term chief minister, has cited the vastness of the state as a reason for not being able to maintain law and order during his party’s current stint in power. In terms of per-capita gross domestic product (GDP), the state ranks second from the bottom. There can be absolutely no doubt that the abysmal performance of successive governments on various fronts can be attributed, in part, to the large and almost unwieldy size of the state.
The two regions where the demand for statehood has been festering for quite some time are Western Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand. Western Uttar Pradesh comprises six divisions – Meerut, Saharanpur, Moradabad, Bareilly, Agra and Aligarh. It is the most prosperous region of the state and per capita income is also much higher than the rest of the state, primarily due to its rich farmers who benefitted from an extensive canal irrigation network that stretches across the region. It sends 22 members to the Lok Sabha and has a population of approximately 5.6 crore people. Till date, there is not even a dedicated bench of the High Court to hear matters arising from the aforementioned divisions.
There is also widespread resentment especially in members of the agricultural castes of the region as they feel that their political influence is not commensurate to their contribution to the state’s economy. The denizens of this region also regard the politicians of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh as parasites. As a matter of fact, Dr B R Ambedkar had proposed a separate western Uttar Pradesh during a meeting of the States Reorganisation Commission. During the last chief ministership of Mayawati in 2007, the assembly also passed a resolution for the division of Uttar Pradesh into four separate states. The said resolution was also forwarded to the government of the day. However, no action was taken.
If this demand is ignored for far too long, the issue might snowball into something on the lines of the Telengana agitation. Already, bar councils across the length and breadth of the region have been issuing strike calls on an almost weekly basis, stressing the need for a separate High Court Bench (just to put things in perspective – Madhya Pradesh which has less than half the population of UP has three benches – a principle bench in Jabalpur and two others in Gwalior and Indore.)
Politically also this might suit the government of the day. The SP is sure to protest such a move because this region is not its stronghold and just like Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal lapsed into irrelevance in Jharkhand, it is likely to lapse into irrelevance in the proposed Harit Pradesh except for the small pockets of Ruhelkhand, where Azam Khan still holds sway.
There would also be a lot of goodwill generated for the ruling party which shall surely place it in an advantageous position at least in the next couple of elections. If it can also enter into a strategic alliance with Ajit Singh of Rashtriya Lok Dal and his sure to be grateful Jat voters, there is no doubt that it shall dominate the politics of this region for years to come.
The second region that warrants discussion is the drought-prone Bundelkhand. The better portion of the region falls in present day Madhya Pradesh but the seven districts that lie within the boundary of Uttar Pradesh are Jhansi, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda, Chitrakoot and Lalitpur. The population of this region is around 2.5 crore, according to latest census figures. The separate statehood movement for Bundelkhand has been gaining some traction with Bollywood actor Raja Bundela being one of its prime movers. As a matter of fact, a political party called the Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha was also formed by him and a few of his associates. It contested the 2012 assembly elections but could not make much headway.
The grievances of this region are a mirror image to those of Western Uttar Pradesh. The politicians of the state are blamed for not paying adequate attention to the peculiar needs of this human resource rich but impoverished landmass that forms a bridge between the great Himalayan river fed plains of the north and the Vindhya Mountain range that roughly divides the northern part of the country from the southern. The pre-eminent political party of this region is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and even at the height of the Narendra Modi wave in 2014, it managed to finish second in many assembly segments. More importantly, the intermediate landowning semi dominant caste in this region is Kurmi – who have traditionally been voters and supporters of the BJP. If at all there is a separate Bundelkhand it is more than likely that the BJP and BSP shall be the biggest gainers and the Samajwadi Party shall be weakened considerably as its yeomen farmer caste vote shall get transferred to the BJP.
Finally, if one were to take a long view of the political history of smaller states carved out of big ones, examples being Jharkhand (Bihar), Chattisgarh (Madhya Pradesh) and Uttarakhand (Uttar Pradesh), two themes would become clear:
(i) National parties traditionally do much better in smaller states because the central leadership of the parties are not threatened enough by the rise of regional satraps to try and cut them to size.
(ii) Caste-based parties generally take a backseat. Essentially the dominant agricultural caste or caste(s) of the smaller state remain grateful to the national party or parties for having rescued them from the domination of the dominant agricultural castes of the state as a whole. (The case in point being Uttarakhand’s Pahadi Thakurs, who have supported the BJP and the Congress alternatively, while rejecting both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Even certain tribal communities of Jharkhand have now become the BJP’s core voters.)
The case of Chattisgarh in this regard is also interesting as well as instructive. The said region was a stronghold of the Congress party from the days of Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla (Vidya Charan Shukla’s father). However, since the long standing demand for statehood was met by the BJP, it has not lost a single election in the state. In this view of the matter, if the BJP wishes to consolidate its hold on vast swathes of the Hindi-speaking belt, trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh might be the way to go.
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