The benefits of reorganization

VISHVJIT P. SINGH

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ANY political process which ignores or tends to place on a lower priority the interests of any particular group or groups cannot continue to do so for any length of time, especially when the affected group acquires the capability of asserting itself. The tragedy of Uttar Pradesh is predicated on just such a premise.

Once a sense of grievance seeps into the collective thinking, it is not long before mindsets become rigid and voting intentions take a lateral shift. While the group first asserting itself was the Jat farmers of western UP, subsequently two other groups emerged to create permanent fissures within the body politic.

The first of these was the articulation by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Backward Classes seeking a share of the political pie. Though initially he sought to represent the entire backward class communities, he eventually found himself limited to the Yadavs. The non-Yadav OBCs sought empowerment through representation in other political groupings.

Mulayam Singh Yadav successfully combined the Yadav vote bank with the minorities. By becoming the foremost champion of minority rights, he and his party actively worked to give protection to the lives and property of the minority community. The minorities were his natural allies since they too, like Yadavs, found themselves sidelined and suppressed by the higher castes. This accretion to the Samajwadi Party vote increased exponentially after the Babri masjid episode. The minorities who had traditionally voted for the Congress were extremely disturbed over the Masjid demolition and with the inaction of the central government shifted their loyalties en masse to the Samajwadi Party. Today though a section of these minority voters are gradually moving back to a proactively secular Congress, the bulk of the minority vote still remains with the Samajwadi Party.

The SCs and STs or Dalits found their voice through the Bahujan Samaj Party. Once it became clear to Dalit voters that the BSP could adequately represent their interests, they too shifted en masse from the Congress Party to the BSP. The BSP then sought to increase its share of the pie by taking other groupings in different areas under its protection. Their compacts with the minorities in western UP and the OBCs in central UP brought them immense dividends.

The BJP managed to consolidate the Hindu vote on the issue of the Ramjanmabhoomi only for a temporary period, finding the going difficult once the masjid was demolished. Floundering for a strategy, the BJP finds itself swinging from hardcore Hindutva to a Hinduised secularism, and from a free market model to a swadeshi mixture. Forced to acknowledge the gains of the freedom movement, and the role played by the Mahatma, Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Rajiv Gandhi, it finds itself at sea, able to neither criticise nor support any policy.

The Congress has been marginalized and is still trying to gain a presence which could make it a deciding factor in government formation. When no party can get a proper majority, each player assumes importance. This situation is further complicated by the entry of a plethora of bit players – individuals having caste or group influence in particular areas, contesting as independents and acting as spoilers. The latest opinion polls show that nearly twenty per cent of the vote in the next election might go to the independents.

 

This process of depletion of the Congress vote has led to a fragmentation of the body politic such that no single viable alternate party can emerge dominant. While mutual distrust prevents any viable pre-poll alliance, the lure of power creates an impetus for post-poll alliances. Sometimes, however, even such a coalition of convenience is not possible.

This fragmentation reached its nadir after the last assembly elections when it took a number of months of manoeuvring, deal-making and large-scale purchasing of loyalties before the eventual formation of a government. A floundering process of government formation eventually resulted in a government with all kinds of inherent weaknesses – criminal elements holding ministerial positions; specific castes dominating the entire administration and police spectrum – leading to a general breakdown of the faith of the populace not only in the processes of government formation but in the concept of government itself. The Nithari killings are, of course, the ultimate manifestation of the malaise of nepotism and corruption affecting the administration.

 

This fragmentation is a direct consequence of the lack of representation and effective disempowerment of large sections of the population. When avenues of empowerment are limited, it is no surprise that competition for such positions intensifies. The British gave us a colonial administration which we, in independent India, have kept virtually intact with a District Collector and Superintendent of Police at the apex of the district administration. Independent India has given us a top layer of democracy in the form of the Parliament at the central level and the various assemblies at the state level. Till very recently these were the only real manifestations of our democracy with few signs of lower tiers of democracy as seen in other democratic countries.

In the absence of any other avenue for representation, captive constituencies were sought to be created through the politics of division and subdivision; hence the rise of caste or group specific parties. The pattern remained the same in each case. First, articulate the grievances or aspirations of a particular group; second, create a support base across the entire group; third, fight and win the elections on a group specific platform; and fourth, participate in government formation using the strength of the group to get a larger slice of the budgetary cake for a particular group.

Once this politics of division took hold it was not long before the politics of subdivision leading to further fragmentation came into play, for example, the Samata Party seeking to represent the interests of the non-Yadav OBCs.

The introduction of panchayati raj has partially sought to correct this anomaly but the powers of the panchayati raj institutions are limited and the real power still vests with the district administration; hence the situation at the ground level has not changed substantially.

While this process of fragmentation was gradually accelerating there was a parallel process of regional disparities becoming more acute and pronounced. If the farmers of western UP prospering through the Green Revolution were seeking an economic and political space equivalent to their brethren in Haryana and Punjab, they found themselves pulled down by the demands of the UP state. The logical next step after the Green Revolution should have been, at the very least, in situ value addition for the agriculture produce, and then a gradual industrialization of the area giving growth to employment opportunities. Unfortunately, no such logical trajectory was forthcoming.

 

The fruits of the Green Revolution stagnated. Large sections of youth, now relatively prosperous, found themselves without any avenue of employment. The farmers of western UP reasonably felt that since they were contributing to the prosperity of the state, investments in their area in terms of infrastructure as well as industrial capacity generation should be in line with their contribution to the state kitty. When this was not forthcoming it led to a sense of grievance which simmers under the surface. On the other hand the presence of large numbers of unemployed youth has led to a criminalisation of the entire belt with its consequent effect upon the national capital region.

Only a few years back, the northern area of the state comprising of Garhwal and Kumaon nursed its own sense of grievances. These remote and inaccessible areas found themselves starved not only of funds but also of the basic institutional and logistical support expected from any government. The lack of education and employment resulted in very few persons from this area getting entry into even the most basic of government services. At the other end, the plains persons refused to take up positions in the remoter areas leaving a large number of schools without teachers, hospitals and dispensaries without doctors and nursing staff.

 

The resultant agitation caught the imagination of the people and resulted in the formation of the state of Uttarakhand. The more or less immediate change in the quality of life in Uttarakhand in terms of infrastructure development, creation of industrial capacity, investments both internal and external, as well as a responsive administration are proof, if any were needed, that people are best governed by themselves rather than by a government located hundreds of miles away.

Just as in the case of Assam, the various autonomous districts eventually had to be hived off to create new states to fulfil the just aspirations of the people, the various regional demands for statehood cropping up in the different parts of Uttar Pradesh will have to be addressed by the Indian state sooner rather than later. The formation of a new States Reorganisation Commission is likely to give impetus to all these demands and each region will make an effort for the perpetuation of its own identity.

At this point it is essential to examine the historical background to the creation of modern day Uttar Pradesh. Each separate unit which was merged into the huge entity of Uttar Pradesh has its own background and history which needs to be understood to put the current demands into perspective as well as to understand their internal dynamics.

 

The colonial powers marked boundaries based on conquest and absorptions while totally ignoring the ground realities of tribe, region, language and ethnicity. These arbitrary boundaries have resulted in tension, conflict and, in extreme cases, even wars fought by aggrieved populations. The post-colonial history of Africa is witness to many such conflicts – most of them the consequence of such arbitrary divisions. Tribes have been separated and divided between different countries; traditional enemies have been put together into single countries; people speaking a particular language find themselves divided and conjoined to other people speaking completely different languages and belonging to different cultural groups. Thus, groups with no linkages to each other today find themselves united within particular nation states with no commonality of religion, region, language or ethnicity.

Similar problems were engendered on the Indian subcontinent where the British created provinces as they went about conquering kingdoms, forming alliances and absorbing larger and larger areas into their fold. The provinces were set up for ease of governance rather than on any social-demographic rationale. Many were corrected through the first phase of reorganisation of states by the creation of a larger linguistic state. The next phase of regional and ethnic aspiration saw the creation of Punjab, Haryana and modern day Himachal Pradesh. The northern part of UP was separated to create Uttarakhand, the tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar were separated to create Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The violent movements taking place in the whole swathe of tribal districts across the country will eventually metamorphose into agitations for the creation of separate tribal states in each of these areas. To take the most extreme case, the agitation for Telengana region dates back to the time when it was a part of the Nizams Dominion of Hyderabad. The Indian state faced one of its gravest challenges when the Telengana region rose up in revolt against the apathy of the administration in 1953. Units of the Indian Army were sent in to quell the resistance, some of whom defected to the side of the peasants causing an unprecedented situation. Unfortunately, while the revolt of 1953 was put down, the underlying causes were never addressed to the satisfaction of the people. As a result, the agitation has mushroomed in different forms, sometimes as a Naxalite agitation, sometimes as an agitation for peasants rights, and lately as an instrument for the creation of a new state of Telengana. The setting up of a new States Reorganization Commission was a direct consequence of this agitation.

 

One of the largest of the British Indian provinces was the unwieldy United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. This huge behemoth was created over a period of time. What is today eastern UP was first a part of the Bengal province, then placed under a separate province and eventually conjoined to UP. Garhwal and Kumaon were added on as a result of the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1816. The western districts of Uttar Pradesh (the Agra part of the United Provinces) were originally a part of the greater Delhi province of the Mughals which extended up to and included what is today Haryana. Originally attached to the Agra province once it was taken over by the British, after 1857 it was punished for its support to the first Indian War of Independence by being truncated and divided with one portion going to Punjab, Delhi being named one of the districts of Punjab and the Agra portion becoming a separate province. The Awadh state had been taken over by the British in 1856, and was eventually amalgamated into the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in 1902.

Post independence, the princely states of the Baghelkhand and the Bundelkhand regions were combined to form the new state of Vindhya Pradesh. This was later divided into two portions with a large chunk of Baghelkhand and one portion of Bundelkhand being given to Madhya Pradesh and one portion of Bundelkhand being amalgamated into UP.

 

All this has created an anomalous situation. Though there is a branch of the High Court at Lucknow, it is a successor to the old Oudh Chief Court and has jurisdiction only in the erstwhile Awadh area. Strangely, the residents of western UP have to seek justice from the Allahabad High Court which is at the other end of the state. One of the most cogent arguments advanced for the establishment of a High Court Bench in western UP was the fact that even the Lahore High Court in Pakistan was closer to western UP than the Allahabad High Court!

The economic condition of UP only adds to the problems. Scarce resources of the state are allocated in an arbitrary fashion for the development of particular constituencies being represented by the chief minister and ministers of the day, even as vast areas of the state remain underdeveloped and inaccessible. The road system is so poor that it is practically impossible to move from one district headquarters to a neighbouring one on any direct road. The best way is to first go to the national highway and then backtrack to the next district headquarters. Far from creating a common market for goods across the country, conditions in UP do not even permit a proper common market for goods within the state. Industrial development is at a standstill. Electric supply is limited to only a few hours a day. Even basic civic amenities are lacking. The state is seen only as an exploiter of the people.

The lack of development in both Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal has given rise to various agitations and resulted in the special packages being mooted for both these areas by the Centre as well as the state. Unfortunately, not only are these efforts too little and too late, the packages are defective. Today, the people seem to have had enough of this stepmotherly treatment and an agitation for a separate state of Poorvanchal is gaining ground. Similarly, the people of Bundelkhand along with their brethren in Madhya Pradesh too are seeking to form a separate state of Bundelkhand.

 

The farmers of western UP want to become masters of their own destiny through the creation of a Harit Pradesh from the 22 districts of the five divisions of Agra, Bareilly, Meerut, Moradabad and Saharanpur. As indicated, these areas were earlier a part of contiguous Greater Delhi divided by the British after 1857. The people of this area still retain their ethnic, cultural and linguistic features. Inter-marriages within the communities throughout the region cutting across state boundaries have preserved this sense of identity. This issue was even raised in the Constituent Assembly by Pt. Thakur Das Bhargava (East Punjab: General) on 2.8.1949:

‘During the Mutiny too, when the people rose in revolt, this territory was a part of Delhi. Because the people of this area had mutinied against the British in 1857, this territory of Delhi, i.e. Haryana Province, which includes the four or five districts of Hissar, Rohtak, Gurgaon and Karnal, was integrated with the Punjab as a measure of punishment. The result was that our territory became the Cinderella of the Punjab and we began to be treated as depressed classes. No rights were granted to the people of our area. Canals were constructed in the western part only. We were deprived of all facilities. We were not granted irrigation or educational facilities and were subject to a high-handedness which has its own history. I want to submit that the people of this area have been expecting for a long time that on the advent of self-government, all their difficulties would be removed.

‘In 1909 we started a movement in which we put forward the demand that our territory should be separated from Punjab. In 1919 and 1928, this movement gained great strength. His Excellency, Mr. Asaf Ali, and Lala Desbandhu Gupta who has come over to Delhi from East Punjab, were the leaders of this movement. We, the workers, sided with them in this movement and struggled hard for the cause of this territory. In 1928 both Mahatma Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah accepted that Ambala division should form a part of Agra and Meerut Division. A scheme was also formulated to this effect by Mr. Corbett known as the Corbett Scheme. But at that time our demand was not conceded and the Round Table Conference gave its decision against our demand. If this demand had been conceded at that time, the history of our country would have been altogether different.’

Finally, some portions of western UP contiguous to those parts of Rajasthan which are culturally the same and which were split up post 1857 seek the creation of a Braj Pradesh, though no serious agitation has got any impetus.

Underlying all these tensions is the reality of language, culture and regional identity. The peasant of western Uttar Pradesh has linkages with Haryana rather than eastern Uttar Pradesh, whose language and culture are alien to him as is of even closer to home Awadh. The Awadh region, despite its variations, still has a composite culture based upon language and historical identity. The eastern districts share more bonds with Bihar rather than Awadh and western Uttar Pradesh. The Bundelkhand region similarly yearns for its sundered other part in Madhya Pradesh.

The ultimate rationale for the creation of small units out of the current Uttar Pradesh is political. Smaller states would accommodate the political aspirations of many groups which have today fragmented the polity of UP. By transferring powers to the various regions, smaller states would result in more development and hence more votes for those bringing about development. Above all, they might spell an end to the politics of fragmentation.

The main question is whether Uttar Pradesh can be divided into smaller units? The answer would have to be an emphatic affirmative. The people want it. Economic and administrative wisdom demands it. Perhaps the time has come for the politicians to understand the momentum of the aspirations of their voters.

 

* The views expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not reflect the official position of the Congress Party.

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