Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

Why Uttar Pradesh should be split

The idea behind partitioning UP is to make governance more granular, responsive and down to earth

The worst part about the several recent episodes of lawlessness in Uttar Pradesh (UP)—that appeared to have shocked the rest of the nation—is that they hardly surprise the people of the state. Of course, they are saddened and, more than that, scared—but they are not surprised. There is a deep-set cynicism that nothing will change and even UPites can be heard mocking themselves by anointing UP as the new Bihar of India, in an obvious reference to lawlessness in the neighbouring state during Lalu Prasad’s rule.

It is not hard to understand the cynicism. UP has quite literally anchored the “BIMARU" tag, a term—bimar means “sick" in Hindi—coined in the 1980s by using the initials of the slowest growing, most backward states in India. If one were to look at the Planning Commission’s comparative data from the 12th Five-Year Plan, UP lies at the bottom of the stack among the 15 major states in the country. Irrespective of what parameter one chooses, from growth rate to investments made in the economy to any of the social welfare indices—UP resides at the bottom. What makes matters worse is wide regional inequalities within the state. UP has one of the highest income inequalities in the country, as measured by the Gini coefficient. On top of that several studies have found high levels of horizontal inequalities, or inequalities among groups of people as against inequalities among individuals. Studies reaffirm anecdotal evidence about wide inequalities between western UP, which is most well off, and Bundelkhand and eastern UP. According to a study by D.M. Diwakar (Intra-regional disparities, inequality and poverty in Uttar Pradesh, EPW, 2009) most districts in eastern UP and Bundelkhand regions belonged to the “most backward" to “low medium developed" range.

It is difficult to look at UP and not wonder if something could be changed to resolve the situation. But there are no easy ways to change the politics in UP, which is largely driven by caste and communal equations. However, enabling conditions can be provided and that is where it makes sense to consider dividing UP into three or four separate states.

Given the size of the state—both in terms of geography as well as population—such a move will allow for better political representation and bring the administration closer to people. With roughly 200 million people in the state, a single government, a single chief minister simply can’t be expected to do justice to the competing demands. And without political will and involvement, it is naïve to expect any improvements in UP.

But the central purpose for any division of the state has to be to achieve greater accountability from the political class for the purpose of welfare. The reason why a Bundelkhand, to take an example, has not developed despite thousands upon thousands of crore of rupees being “allocated" to it is that there is no way to pin down the government in Lucknow despite all the money being routed through Lucknow. As a region, Bundelkhand does not have enough constituencies to ensure that Lucknow listens to its demands. As things stand, a party can easily afford to rule UP without winning many seats in Bundelkhand. It is not difficult to imagine that if Bundelkhand had its own government, in time at least, people will be better placed to extract a reasonable political response.

The idea behind partitioning UP is to make governance more granular, responsive and down to earth. The notion of one man controlling the fate of 200 million whom he cannot possibly know, only creates the “mai baap" culture where people from distant places go begging before leaders who don’t really empathize with them.

By most accounts and statistics, all previous state bifurcations have helped matters. Even for Jharkhand, which is held out as the worst performer among the newly created states, it would be incorrect to argue that it would have been better off as part of erstwhile Bihar. Jharkhand’s problems are not due to bifurcation, but despite it.

Splitting UP may not be the panacea to all ills, but it is an enabling condition and a necessary first step for more effective and accountable governance.

Udit Misra is Assistant Editor (Views) at Mint.

Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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