The decision to divide Uttar Pradesh into four states by Chief Minister Mayawati has set a new agenda in the state’s politics. This will have far reaching consequences for the coming assembly polls as well.
The demand to divide Uttar Pradesh into four states is nothing new. It had been a long-standing demand from former prime minister Charan Singh that western Uttar Pradesh be carved out into a separate state. Similarly the advocates, youth and peasants of western Uttar Pradesh had been demanding a separate bench of the high court in Meerut, an important city of western Uttar Pradesh and close to Delhi, on the grounds that the existing high court in Allahabad was too far to travel to and took many days.
Another region known as Bundelkhand too has been asking for a separate state. There have been dharnas, street protests and hunger strikes by the intelligentsia of Bundelkhand which drew wide support from all sections of the society cutting across party lines in the region. This area is also one of the most backward and underdeveloped regions not only in the state but in the country as well. Agriculture here suffers due to lack of irrigation facilities and other modernisation initiatives.
Similarly, Poorvanchal or eastern Uttar Pradesh suffers from backwardness in all spheres of developmental and social indexes. The region attributes this to the policy of neglect by the ruling powers. In spite of being the most fertile region of Uttar Pradesh, the agriculture yield is low due to non-availability of inputs required by the farmers. They are not provided with any assistance whatsoever due to unwillingness of the state and a policy of indifference adopted by officials and the bureaucracy.
The Awadh region or the fourth segment is a very important political region. Kanpur, which was once a hub of textiles, is now a decrepit town with a huge sick industry. Other industries are no better as progress has completely choked due to lack of electricity and other modernisation inputs. There has been a flight of skilled labour into other regions of the country because of low income and economic depression in central Uttar Pradesh.
Faizabad, popularly known as Ayodhya, saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and surrounding areas like Tanda which had a huge handloom industry came to a halt at that time. At one time it was one of the well known areas of weavers and handicraft workers. This area also has the largest orchards of mango and guava and other cash crops. But due to complete apathy towards modernising these institutions, there is a feeling of neglect.
Uttar Pradesh also needs to be viewed historically to understand the different facets of the problem it is facing today. The Britishers carved the province and called it United Provinces in the early 20th century. This was also the region that revolted in 1857 against British rule. Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi raised the banner of revolt against the British followed by the revolt of the Nawab of Awadh and Sepoy Mutiny in Meerut. The colonial power worked out a strategy whereby they created this province and made Lucknow its capital.
The United Provinces was unmanageable for the purpose of revenue system, and therefore even our colonial power divided it into three major areas, namely zamindari system for Poorvanchal or eastern region, talukdari system in the central region and rayatwari system in the western region. This was an effective system of revenue collection of the British Raj in the state.
Culturally these four regions of Uttar Pradesh are four distinct entities. Bhojpuri is the dialect in eastern Uttar Pradesh or Poorvanchal, Bundelkhandi is spoken in Buldelkhand, Awadhi is spoken in the central region known as Awadh and Khariboli is spoken in western Uttar Pradesh. Therefore the justification of division on cultural and geopolitical grounds is very valid.
The most important argument in favour of dividing Uttar Pradesh is the position taken by Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution. On the Vidharbha issue in 1953 in the united Maharashtra, he was of the opinion that smaller states have good governance and democratic practices where participation of people is far more greater.
Similarly Jaya Prakash Narayan, the founder of the Indian socialist movement and a great Gandhian, wrote in 1955 to then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru that the US which was less than one third of India had 50 states in its federal structure of governance, and therefore a country like India of its size and magnitude should at least have 100 states for effective governance. In such a system, democracy will have deeper roots and will also spread widely.
In the light of history and logic, the decision taken by the Mayawati government should be judged. Today, Uttar Pradesh has a population of around 200 million. It could well be the fourth largest country of the world after China, India and the US. Therefore, the decision by the Uttar Pradesh assembly in passing the resolution to divide the state into four is not a little too soon. If there is any lacunae, let parliament debate this and can take corrective measures because, principally, the BJP and the Congress are both in favour of smaller states.
Sudhindra Bhadoria is a social activist in Uttar Pradesh