With the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet pushing a proposal to divide India's largest State into four parts through on Tuesday, Chief Minister Mayawati revealed yet another element of her cleverly crafted pre-election strategy. Her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) may still be leading the field for next year's Assembly polls, but four and a half years of rule has meant a certain amount of anti-incumbency has set in, not perhaps among members of her core Dalit constituency, but certainly amongst those she had drawn in through skilful social engineering in 2007. Now she wants to neutralise these pockets of disenchantment through this dramatic new promise of dividing up this humongous State into smaller, more manageable portions.
But even as she seeks to get the better of her political opponents, her move on Tuesday is likely to have national repercussions as well: Telangana is still hanging fire, and there are demands for smaller States from across the country, from Vidarbha in the west to Gorkhaland in the east. Even more significant, U.P. will lose its identity as the pre-eminent political State in the country, which has produced a majority of the country's Prime Ministers. Its 75 districts which send 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha could be split with each of its four proposed parts, Bundelkhand, Avadh Pradesh, Purvanchal and Paschim Pradesh, getting roughly either less than a fourth or a little over.
In U.P.'s place, the western State of Maharashtra would be top dog with its 48 MPs in the Lok Sabha, not to mention its financial clout. West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, each with 42 MPs, Bihar with 40 MPs and Tamil Nadu with 39 MP would all have a larger say in national politics. U.P., the heart of India, which has played its role — despite its unwieldy size — in keeping the country united, and holding back the communal tide, would no longer exist.
But, for Mayawati, her concerns are far more immediate — she needs to win next year's election. So she has decided to work on demands that have arisen from different parts of the State from time to time. For instance, both the people of the prosperous western part of the State as well as of the desperately poor and arid Bundelkhand have, for many years, expressed a desire to break away from U.P. If the proponents of Harit Pradesh in the west — the most prosperous part of the State — feel they could plough the wealth they generate into their own region without having to subsidise the more backward eastern and southern parts of the State, those living in Bundelkhand have felt a separate State might rescue the region from the neglect it has suffered under successive regimes.
As a pre-election gambit, it serves the purpose of sending out a message to the powerful Jats of western U.P., largely supporters of Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), and who tend to be inimical to the Jatavs, the Dalit community which is the backbone of the BSP, that she is one with their aspiration for Harit Pradesh — or Paschim Pradesh, as she has named it.
In Bundelkhand, the story is different: this is a BSP stronghold where the Congress' Rahul Gandhi has spent a great deal of time focussing attention on its backwardness and even pushing for a Planning Commission package for the region. But, tragically, this continues to be an area where many farmers are continuing to commit suicide, unable to pay back bank loans, something that the Allahabad High Court tooksuo motunotice of in this July. It is also a region where the Congress' loan waiver scheme did not work as well as it did in other parts of U.P. in the run-up to the general elections of 2009: the scheme was made for farmers with land holdings of up to five acres, without taking into account the differences in the quality of the land in different parts of the country. In western U.P., a farmer with five acres is relatively prosperous; in Bundelkhand, a farmer with four times as much might starve.
So will Mayawati's gamble pay off? It will certainly distract attention from the shortcomings in her administration, leaving her political adversaries, the Samajwadi Party, the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RLD scrambling for an effective counter strategy. Of the four, only the SP has expressed its total opposition to the proposal; the Congress, characteristically, is divided and has said that a second States Reorganisation Commission is needed, while the BJP has simply described it as a diversionary tactic. The RLD is yet to speak — it cannot but welcome something it has been campaigning for, but if it does so, it could be advantage Mayawati in west U.P.