Saturday, November 26, 2011
The State of the Matter
So far the honours for the Uttar Pradesh sweepstakes are even. If Rahul Gandhi has pitched himself to show that the Congress is the Bahujan Samaj Party’s main opponent by his “angry young man” act, Mayawati has come back with a googly— the proposal to split the state into four—stumping the Congress. The game is far from over, but you are at least sure that you will get some high quality, high voltage politics in the run-up to the UP state assembly elections.
Ever since it was created, there have been moves to divide the state of Uttar Pradesh. The state’s origin lies in the exigencies of the British conquest of India and at some point it was christened the United Provinces of Agra and Awadh, being shortened in 1937 to United Provinces. After Independence, this was conveniently changed to Uttar Pradesh. Around the size of the United Kingdom, and three times as populous, this gigantic state was the fulcrum of national politics. At its peak, it returned as many as 85 members of the Lok Sabha.
The party which controlled its politics decided who would be prime minister in New Delhi. But with the rise of identity politics the clout of the state was fragmented. Even so, as Mayawati revealed in the 2007 elections, it is still possible for a single party to dominate the state, even if not as completely as the Congress had in the 1950s.
There is little to be said for the claims that Ms Mayawati’s move is an election stunt. All politics are ultimately geared towards winning elections in a democracy, and the call to divide the state into four is a political move, plain and simple, so there is not much to complain about. You have to hand it to Mayawati; she has the instincts of a gambler. She has staked the state which her party dominates and is offering to divide it into four, an act which is fraught with electoral consequences for her BSP.
She undoubtedly hopes that it could provide the breakthrough she has been looking for at the national level since 2007. But the bigger questions are, first, whether her move will succeed, and second, whether it will benefit her and, finally and equally importantly, the inhabitants of the new states.
Under the Constitution, the eventual call on the creation of a new state rests with the Union government. The Congress history shows its disinclination to create new states. It did so with Maharashtra-Gujarat, Haryana-Punjab and Uttaranchal-UP only after agitations. Even now, as Telangana is virtually a fact, and burning, the party continues to waffle. Faced with the googly the party has limply suggested a new states reorganisation commission.
The Congress has its own imperatives. Being an all-India party, it doesn’t have the instincts or cunning of Mayawati who is looking for that big win. So, for the present Mayawati will, by default, be allowed to set up a straw man and beat him in the coming months. And in this way, she will ensure that some of the heat she would have faced for the corruption and criminalisation of the BSP-led government is deflected.
The second issue, too, is complicated. From being the top dog in UP, the BSP will have to rewrite the electoral equations in the new states. The Paschim Pradesh, for example, is the natural home of the Jat-dominated Rashtriya Lok Dal. It also has a significant proportion of Muslim voters, a fact that has been noted by the Muslim-baiting BJP. Bundelkhand could well be a natural outpost for the Samajwadi Party.
Whether the division will benefit the inhabitants of the new states is indeed a moot question. The record in India is mixed. One of the aspects of Mayawati’s proposal is that there is really no demand for UP’s division. When Uttarakhand separated, it was as much the result of geography and culture, as of an intense agitation for a separate hill state and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s mishandling of it.
While there has been a demand for a separate “Harit Pradesh” to incorporate regions of western UP, these have been more in terms of declarative statements of leaders of the RLD, rather than through any mass agitation. Likewise, Ms Mayawati’s claim that she had championed the division in the past, too, rests on the fact that she wrote three letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue in the past three years.
Compare this with the storm that is raging in Telangana where there is support for a separate state, as well as vehement opposition to it. In the past, too, states like Maharashtra, Punjab, and Haryana emerged through an intense struggle. Himachal, the most successful of the small states, was a collateral effect of the reorganisation of Punjab. Jharkhand, too, was the result of a long struggle spanning half a century.
The experience of the creation of new states shows two trends. On the one hand you have successful states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal, and Mizoram and on the other you have those like Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand which are failing, if not failed, states. Maybe it is unfair to call them failing or failed. But the outcomes for the inhabitants have not been particularly good and in many cases, these states are barely solvent, and depend on central largesse for survival. Their inept governments have not generated any economic growth and have, instead, depended on expanding government jobs for their inhabitants.
Take Uttarakhand. Instead of taking the trajectory of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand has been marked by rampant corruption. The same seems to have happened in Jharkhand. The takeaway could well be that the winning political party has the means to corrupt the entire political class. N.D. Tiwari patented the idea of providing some kind of sinecure to each and every member of the legislative assembly belonging to his party. He was probably outdone by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank whose largesse extended to party bosses in New Delhi as well. Though Jharkhand had a strong identity and vast resources, it has been cursed by political instability which has probably been aided and promoted by venal politicians like Shibu Soren and Madhu Koda. In just two years of his chief ministership, the latter allegedly acquired assets worth Rs 4,000 crore.
The experience of Himachal Pradesh shows that a decent, capable and far-sighted leader can make a major difference in the fortunes of a state. Unfortunately, none of the new entities created after 2000 has had that luck. In the case of the four states that Mayawati wants to create out of UP, we are not even sure as to who could lead these states. We know, of course, that Ajit Singh could get himself or his son to become the CM of the Paschim Pradesh. But as for the others there are few obvious names. No doubt they will emerge, especially after Mayawati has precipitated the issue.
The bigger question is about Ms Mayawati’s own future. As a politician, she has been peripatetic. She has contested polls from places like Haridwar (now in Uttarakhand), Kairana and Bijnor in West UP, Akbarpur in East UP, Harora assembly seat from West UP, Bisli from Central UP and Jahangirpur near Noida. But West UP aka Harit Pradesh is the one place where she would face the most coherent opposition. Perhaps there is a hidden message in the Dalit memorial park in Noida facing Delhi.
This leaves you wondering whether it is guile or gamble that guides her deeper strategy.
Mail Today November 18, 2011