Too big to Succeed — Split Uttar Pradesh into Smaller States

With a population of 215 million, 75 districts, 822 blocks and 97000 villages the crux of the issue is capacity and embedded complexity.

By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 12th March 2017 04:00 AM |

It is springtime — the metaphor for change. This week a new regime will take charge in Uttar Pradesh. Will poll promises get converted, will hope triumph over history? In governance, size does matter and the odds, given the size, are stacked against the state.

The crux of the issue is capacity and embedded complexity. Consider the administrative set-up in Uttar Pradesh. Governance in rural areas flows via 75 districts, 822 blocks and 52,021 gram panchayats. In urban areas, that is over 650 towns and cities, governance is under 15 municipal corporations, 13 cantonment boards, 197 municipal boards, 267 census towns, 424 nagar panchayats.

There is no escaping from the harsh fact that Uttar Pradesh is too big to succeed. The state needs to be split into more manageable smaller states to enable 215 million people a shot at a better future. Historically, smaller states have done better. And the promise of the possibility is reflected in the indicators of Uttarakhand which was spliced from UP in November 2000 — per capita income of Uttarakhand has risen from Rs 18,636 in 2001 to Rs 1,51,219 in 2015–16, while that of UP has languished at Rs 48,520.

The creation of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, too, delivered dividends for the new states — and the mother states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It has been argued that size is not a panacea. True. Outcomes demand the confluence of necessary and sufficient conditions. And the creation of smaller states is a necessary condition for better governance.

The scale of the challenge in Uttar Pradesh is boggling. The state tops the population chart with over 215 million persons — nearly twice that of Maharashtra, ranked second in population, and more than Bihar and West Bengal put together.

Indeed, Uttar Pradesh would rank fifth on the list of the most populous countries. Look at the landscape.

India has 640,867 villages, of which 97,814 inhabited villages are in Uttar Pradesh. Quite simply nearly every sixth village in India is in Uttar Pradesh — more villages than in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu put together.

Democracy demands more than just election of representatives. It calls for a dialogue between the sovereign, which is the people, and the agents which would be the elected members. Intent apart, there is no denying the challenge presented by the scale. Imagine, an enthusiastic rural development or agriculture minister choosing to visit 10 per cent of the villages or if the urban development minister chooses to visit 10 per cent of the towns. Try the math!

The consequence of poor governance is visible across indicators. Of the 75 districts, 35 have been on the list of India’s most backward districts since 1960, and 41 are on the list of educationally backward districts. At Rs 48,520, its per capita income is less than half the national average. Barely three out of 100 pay any tax and seven out of 10 households earn around Rs 5,000 per month. The consequence of deprivation is reflected in human development indices — it trails a decade behind India in literacy, tops the fertility rate, and has the highest malnutrition and maternal mortality.

For decades caste politics has been blamed for the many failures that pockmark the political economy of Uttar Pradesh. Caste does dominate the political landscape of India. But the domination of Jats in Haryana, Marathas in Maharashtra or Thevars in Tamil Nadu has not detained urbanisation, growth and development.

The other alibi is that domination of regional parties has wrecked governance. The generalisation militates against experience elsewhere — say Tamil Nadu which has been ruled by regional parties since 1967. The rule of regional parties in Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka hasn’t derailed delivery of basic services.

Remember the state has not lacked political representation — nine of the 14 prime ministers of India have been from or elected from the state. In Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) the state has over 100 MPs and the bicameral system elects over 500 legislators.

Representation, though, has been poor. Uttar Pradesh has been haunted by lawlessness and poor education standards. Despite this, over 3.5 lakh posts of teachers and police personnel are vacant. The 600-plus representatives have failed to hold governments accountable. The politicians of Uttar Pradesh have much to answer for but the many deficits are fundamentally the consequences of scale, density and complexity.

The idea for smaller states does enjoy political support. The Congress has seasonally argued for smaller states and during UPA II split Andhra Pradesh to create Telangana. Chaudhary Charan Singh’s RLD, now led by Ajit Singh, has campaigned for it. In 2011, the Mayawati-led BSP government pushed through a resolution in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly for it to be split into four states — Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Awadh Pradesh — and has promised to do so if elected in 2017.

The BJP, too, has consistently argued the case for smaller states. It was the Vajpayee regime that oversaw the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh out of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. In fact, its stand is acknowledged and reiterated this.

Its 2014 manifesto, states: “BJP has always stood for greater decentralisation through smaller states”. The division of Uttar Pradesh is an idea pending for decades.

And it is not just about governance — there is a strategic political rationale backing smaller states. This was most eloquently articulated by B R Ambedkar in 1955 in his treatise Thoughts on Linguistic States.

Ambedkar argued that allowing “one state to have such preponderating influence in the Centre is a dangerous thing”.

He then observed:“The Commission in designing linguistic States has created a consolidation of the North and balkanisation of the South. Intentionally or unintentionally the fact is there. Its evil consequences are also clear. It is therefore necessary that this situation must be rectified. The only way is to divide the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.”

There has been rectification even if partial — in the division of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Critically, Ambedkar’s prescience is visible in outcomes post the division of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Now, Uttar Pradesh awaits redemption.

Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

You can email him at shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.

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