From an administrative point of view, Uttar Pradesh is truly an unmanageable State. Cutting it up into four smaller States as Chief Minister Mayawati has proposed, roughly along regional cultural divides — Bundelkhand, Avadh Pradesh, Purvanchal, and Paschim Pradesh — has its merits as an idea. It could lead to more equitable development of these regions, and relieve the pressure on Lucknow. The idea itself is not new. But politically, it is counter-intuitive — the Chief Minister of a State that elects 80 Lok Sabha members wields much more influence than one that sends one-fourth that number. Even with Ms Mayawati's confidence that her party would rule all four proposed States, the instability of governments in small States makes it an unattractive political proposition. And administrative manageability could be achieved by a more effective decentralisation. So it seems more plausible that the Chief Minister rolled out her promise of a 1x4 division of U.P. in the knowledge that it will not become reality, at least in the near future. In any case, a green light from the State cabinet is only the first step in a long process that involves an approval by the State Assembly, and then by Parliament.

It is certainly a clever political gambit by Ms Mayawati ahead of the elections, and it has already succeeded in confusing the opposition parties. There are no popular agitations for the division of Uttar Pradesh, yet the idea is not without some resonance in the four regions. The Congress has always opposed the creation of smaller States; its dilemma is all the greater now as its reaction to Ms Mayawati's move would hold immediate significance for the Telangana agitation. Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party is set against any division of U.P. as his party's backward caste vote base is not as evenly spread as Dalits are across the four regions. Only the Bharatiya Janata Party favours smaller States, but it too has been taken by surprise. As hot air builds under the proposal, it is bound to deflect attention from other issues, such as the BSP government's track record and allegations of corruption against the Chief Minister. While there is no doubt that Ms Mayawati has stolen a march over her rivals, it is surprising that for a politician with national ambitions, she seems to have not fully thought through the ripple effect of the move on statehood demands in other parts of the country. There is no denying that the disappearance of single party rule at the centre and the growth of regional politics have brought about a more federal polity, and a more equitable sharing of power. But fragmentation of the country on the basis of ever-narrowing identities hardly represents a progressive idea of India.

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