Split wide open: UP as well as realpolitik

Compared to political stalwarts UP has produced, today’s leaders have shrunken statures; no wonder they find the state too big

ajay

Ajay Singh | November 21, 2011



The towering statues of Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, Uttar Pradesh’s first chief minister, and his disciple Chaudhary Charan Singh on the front lawns of the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha are unique reminder of the state’s distinct political culture and legacy. Pant had also served as the prime minister of the United Province in the pre-independence era and wielded considerable influence across the state.

If Paul Brass’s latest book on Chaudhary Charan Singh is to be believed, Chaudhary always longed for a benign glance of his mentor, Pandit Pant. He often wrote angry letters to Pant only to soften his stance at his mentor’s benign indulgence in form of a response. Pant came from Kumaon region of the hills while Chaudhary Charan Singh belonged to Meerut in west UP. Both came from distinctly different backgrounds. When Pant was moved to the centre as home minister after the death of Sardar Patel, Charan Singh gradually fell out with the successive leadership and left the Congress. He later became chief minister in the late sixties.

Pant was as popular in distant hills of Garhwal and Kumaon regions as he was in Ballia and Azamgarh. Similarly, by his own admission, Chaudhary Charan Singh was ready to forsake his political treasure in western UP for eastern UP where his following was much large among the peasant-proprietor class. This narrative is not intended to delve into the history of the sixties and seventies but to point out a distinct political culture that the country’s largest state has produced.

In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Uttar Pradesh had a tradition of producing political stalwarts whose acceptability knew no geographical boundaries. This bears significance in the context of the proposed division of the state in four distinct geographical entities by chief minister Mayawati just before the assembly elections. The logic for this division is the unwieldy nature of the state given its geographical expanse and size of population. Despite the absurdity of the argument, a section of the political class is ready to buy this theory that the state if divided would be more manageable than its present status.

But is this an established political wisdom that smaller states perform better as compared to the larger states? If this be the reason, then why not create some divisions of Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal? Given the geographical expanse of Gujarat and Rajasthan, these states need to be divided further by this logic.

Apparently, the move by Mayawati could at best be described as “red herring” to divert the people’s attention from the prevailing anti-incumbency sentiments against her. By offering statehood to western UP, she is trying to wean away the support from Ajit Singh who has been harping on creation of Harit Pradesh. But she seems blissfully unaware of the fact that Ajit Singh resorted to Harit Pradesh only when he found his political base shrinking in other parts of the state. This is contrary to the stance taken by Chaudhary Charan Singh, Ajit’s father, that he would any day forsake the claim of western UP in favour of eastern UP.

Interestingly, there has hardly been any serious clamour for carving out new states from UP. Except for Bundelkhand which is regarded as the backyard of the state, the demand for a separate state does not exist. Even in Bundlekhand, people’s anger is directed towards bad governance and corruption. Similarly in eastern UP, the issue at hand is not creation of the state but a series of wrong policies which have kept the region in backwaters. This is best exemplified by the fact that though the distance from Lucknow to Gorakhpur is not very far, every year Gorakhpur gets struck by deadly encephalitis resulting in the death of thousands of children without fail. It would be too naïve to assume that the sensitivity of those in power would change if a Poorvanchal is created out of eastern UP districts and its capital is shifted from Lucknow to Varanasi which is no less distant from Gorakhpur than Lucknow.

In reality, the country’s most populous state has been through an acute political crisis where mainstream parties have been increasingly turning to non-issues to confuse the electorate. The creation of four states out of UP is just yet another example of this politics. Ironically, other parties are also treading the same line. They all look alike and their idioms and phrases have outlived their utility and worn out. This is the precise reason why a numbness in otherwise vibrant electorate is quite visible as the political parties in UP are forcing the old grammar of pandering to basest political instincts of regionalism, castes and criminality.

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