Over the past few decades, India’s most populous state has become a byword for misgovernance. Uttar Pradesh, which largely attracts attention for its episodes of lawlessness, and for its tardy progress on development indicators, is huge by any standard. With a population of roughly 200 million, the state has almost as many people as the fifth most populous country on the planet, Brazil. And its area is roughly the same as that of the UK.

“To put it bluntly, even with the most modern technology and with the strongest of political acumen and will, it is simply ungovernable," wrote Jairam Ramesh, former rural development minister, in a 2014 Mint column on Uttar Pradesh. Ramesh argued for a radical reorganization of the state. So have other politicians, including Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.

But does empirical evidence support anecdotal tales about the wide chasm between eastern and western Uttar Pradesh? A Mint analysis based on a wide range of district-level indicators of assets and amenities shows that most of Uttar Pradesh’s well-off districts are indeed clustered in its westernmost part (or Paschim Pradesh), whereas most of the backward districts are located in other parts of the state.

The poorest districts in terms of ownership of household assets such as TVs or motorbikes lie in Awadh Pradesh (the region immediately to the east of Paschim Pradesh), and in Bundelkhand, the area bordering Madhya Pradesh. But Awadh Pradesh also has a few prosperous districts such as Lucknow and Kanpur. Hence, it scores only a little lower on the mean asset index as compared to the easternmost part of the state, Purvanchal. Even Purvanchal and Bundelkhand have a few developed districts such as Allahabad and Jhansi, respectively. Nonetheless, Bundelkhand’s mean asset index is lower than that of any other region. The mean proportion of asset-poor households (those without any of the assets specified in the census) is also significantly higher in Bundelkhand compared with other regions of the state. Purvanchal has a slightly higher score when it comes to the mean asset index, but even that score is significantly below that of the most prosperous region, Paschim Pradesh.

There are wide variations between the regions when it comes to access to amenities such as electricity and tap water, both of which can be considered to be public goods. Bundelkhand and Purvanchal have similar and low averages when it comes to the amenities index, signifying that provision of public goods is low in these regions. For instance, less than 5% of households in Kaushambi district of Purvanchal have access to tap water. Awadh Pradesh has a higher mean score and Paschim Pradesh a still higher score when it comes to amenities. Even in 2001, the regional divide within Uttar Pradesh was stark when it came to assets and amenities, census data shows.

The asset index used to rank districts in this analysis is a composite index based on census data on ownership of household assets such as cars, motorcycles, TVs, radios, access to banking, phones and bicycles. The amenities index is a similar index based on access to amenities such as toilets, tap water and electricity. Both indices have been constructed using principal components analysis, and have been normalized to take values between 0 and 1, with values closer to 1 indicating greater ownership of assets (or access to amenities). Newly created districts have been merged with their parent districts to ensure comparability between 2001 and 2011 figures in the analysis.

The divide among the regions also holds true when it comes to mean consumption expenditure, data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows. Although the rural-urban divide within each region is sharper than the differences between regions, there is still a significant difference between the consumption expenditure of an average household in rural Bundelkhand and one in rural Paschim Pradesh.

The regional divide within Uttar Pradesh is certainly sharper than was the case in the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh, which was reorganized to carve out the state of Telangana. Using similar parameters for the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh shows that Telangana had a higher score on both assets and amenities compared with either Rayalseema or coastal Andhra (even after excluding Hyderabad from the analysis).

When governments distribute resources on partisan lines and some regions are neglected for a long period of time, there can be gains from dividing the state into smaller ones. While there may be an economic case for Uttar Pradesh’s break-up, its ultimate fate will depend on whether politicians foresee any gains from such a move. Although the creation of new states are often cloaked in the garb of administrative efficiency, the driving force behind such decisions are political calculations about electoral payoffs , argued the UK-based political scientist Louise Tillin in her 2013 book on India’s new states, Remapping India.

If Uttar Pradesh remains undivided, the regional imbalance within the state will continue to be among the toughest challenges for the state government.

Analysing the regional divide: an interactive graphic

This is the first of a five-part data journalism series on intra-state inequality in India. The second part will examine the regional divide within Maharashtra.

The interactive map for this story has been designed by howindialives.com, a Delhi-based start-up that is developing a search engine for public data to make it more accessible to decision-makers.

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