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Mulayam could pay for denotification of districts

By J.P. Shukla

LUCKNOW, APRIL 22. The denotification by the Uttar Pradesh Government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav of new districts and administrative divisions created by the preceding Bahujan Samaj Party governments has emerged as an election issue in more than ten Lok Sabha constituencies affected by the restructuring. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the BSP have forced the Samajwadi Party to go on the defensive as the denotification had both emotional and economic implications for the electorate in these constituencies.

The BSP leader, Mayawati, during her three stints as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister had taken numerous decisions that, though only symbolic in nature, aimed at enhancing the sense of pride of her Dalit constituency. Creation of new districts and divisions and naming them after such Dalit icons as Gautam Buddha, Mahamaya, Sant Rabi Das, Sant Kabir, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Shahuji Maharaj was only one of such steps.

The creation of the new units, however, brought about such other changes as development of smaller towns as district headquarters bringing in the associated army of officials, judges and lawyers to these towns and giving a proportionate boost to the local economy. What was only a symbol of pride for Dalits soon became a matter of practical gains for others too.

After coming to power, Mr. Yadav in one of the first Cabinet decisions, denotified nine of the districts and four administrative divisions created by the preceding governments. The Samajwadi Party leader had been, especially angry at the naming of Ambedkar Nagar district which was carved out of Faizabad. It was Akber Pur, the headquarter of this new district, where the socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia, was born and spent the first few years of his life. He felt it could be logical, if the new district had been named after Dr. Lohia. Socialists in general felt insulted at associating the name of Ambedkar with a place which he never visited in his life and where Dr. Lohia was born.

The abolition of the administrative units invited wild protests as it affected local interests, that of Dalits and non-Dalits. Some of these districts had existed for several years and their abolition uprooted people thriving on the system. They included lawyers, government servants as also service providers to these classes. All of them, including the supporters of the Samajwadi Party, joined the protests.

The abolished Gautam Buddha Nagar merged in Ghaziabad, Auraiya in Etawah and Ambedkar Nagar in Faizabad were the worst affected places where the agitation against abolition of the districts continued for weeks. While in Ghaziabad the agitation had been led by the Union Minister, Ashok Pradhan, the agitation at Auraiya was led by the Samajwadi Party MLA, Kamlesh Pathak. The Chief Minister tried to pacify the people's anger by announcing special grants for the development of affected towns.

The Lok Sabha elections have now revived the issue with the BSP and BJP both placating local interests by making declaring that if returned to power, the abolished districts would be recreated. On behalf of the BJP the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani, also made the promise at some of their election meetings that were held in affected constituencies.

In Akberpur, Etawah, Kannauj, Sambhal, Khurja, Hapur, Khalilabad and Amroha the issue of denotification of administrative units has emerged as an election issue in some way or the other. Etawah and Kannauj have become the two most affected constituencies as the after-effect of the agitation at the abolition of Auraiya continued to persist there. In Akberpur from where the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayawati, has been contesting, abolition of the district of Ambedkar Nagar has come up as a major issue.

Etawah is the home district of Mulayam Singh Yadav and from Kannauj his son, Akhilesh Yadav, is contesting the elections. Ram Gopal Yadav, brother of Mulayam Singh, is a candidate of the Samajwadi Party from Sambhal constituency.

Rae Bareli and Amethi are two other constituencies affected by the abolition of the Chatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar district. This was the last district created by Ms. Mayawati in retaliation to a Congress decision to take the cause of a Dalit at one of the villages in Amethi.

The nature of contest in the two constituencies has been, however, quite different from elsewhere, the main contestant being the Congress and the issue being the legacy of the Gandhi-Nehru family. Denotification of Shahuji Maharaj district, threfore, provides little talking point in these constituencies.

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