Breaking up the heartland

“A masterstroke ahead of polls; also one that betrays Mayawati's nervousness”

Updated - November 17, 2021 07:01 am IST

Published - November 15, 2011 11:36 pm IST

I was taking in the majesty and magnificence of the Allahabad High Court building, when a text message alerted me to the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to create four new states. My heart sank. My beloved U.P to be carved up? The news was not unexpected and yet it left me devastated.

As it turned out, my distress was shared by almost all those I spoke to in the High Court: Allahabad and the High Court formed pages of history that were indelibly linked with India's freedom movement and, therefore, with the identity and supremacy of U.P. itself. An entire era would come to an inglorious end if Mayawati had her way.

As senior advocate Bharatji Agarwal said: “The political importance of U.P will disappear and it will lose its identity.” To Mr. Agarwal, the proposed “balkanisation” brought memories of Russia: “The U.S.S.R was such a great power, equal in standing to the United States. But where is Russia today? U.P will go into similar decline.”

Lawyer Arun Kumar Mishra was inconsolable over the loss of primacy that the Allahabad High Court would suffer once three more high courts came up in adjoining states: “There is such a ring of authority to the name Allahabad High Court. Besides, where are the judges to staff the new courts? Mayawati is destroying our State for purely political reasons.”

For those walking the hallowed corridors of the court, there has always been a sense of pride about belonging to the country's politically largest State. Most of them were raised on the fable that the way to the political Centre was through the winding labyrinths of U.P. There was also the belief that if Delhi caught a chill, U.P. would sneeze; they were so intertwined. In 1991, Narasimha Rao shattered the myth: The Congress was routed in U.P but went on to form a government at the Centre. Nonetheless, U.P. inspires awe by its sheer size. The largest share of MPs (80) and MLAs (403) come from the State. If that is not enough, there are 18 national and State parties and 112 registered but unrecognised parties, representing among them hundreds of caste and denominational groups. Unsurprisingly, the State is a psephologist's nightmare.

It is evidently also an administrator's nightmare: With a population of over 200 million people spread over an area of 2.5 lakh square kilometres, U.P. is a nation in itself, and by some reckoning the fifth largest “nation” in the world. The State's 70 districts extend from Saharanpur in the West to Gorakhpur in the East, forcing the MLAs and MPs to be in a perennial state of travel — between their constituencies and the State headquarters in Lucknow.

Admittedly all of this makes a case for the State to be split up into smaller, more manageable units. Politically, too, it makes sense. In the event of her calculations proving right, Ms. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party will rule over four States instead of just one. And yet there is the obvious question to ask: If Ms. Mayawati is the master of all she surveys in U.P, why would she want to give that up for suzerainty over a smaller space? In 2009, the U.P. Chief Minister was thought to be in the running for Prime Minister — and only because of the gargantuan size of U.P and its seemingly awesome influence.

The debate goes on, with some analysts seeing the proposed division as a master stroke ahead of the Assembly election and others arguing that the move betrays Ms. Mayawati's nervousness over not being able to retain power. Today, the consensus in political U.P. — including among her own officials — is that she will not be able to repeat the success of 2007, and she can at best hope (as of now) for the BSP to emerge as the single largest party. If the ‘aam aadmi' in U.P. supports the division (statehood is an issue that resonates with the common voters) she will have gambled well.

For me personally, the loss of U.P. would be a blow I could never come to terms with. If U.P. is India's heartland, its division, at least for me, will mean putting a dagger through the country's heart. U.P. has been the butt of jokes. It is Ulta Pradesh; it has dragged down India's economy and it is a State that everyone wishes would just go away, leaving ‘Shining India' to shine some more.

V.P. Singh once famously said that if UP-ites wanted to secede, the rest of India would gladly allow them to.

But U.P. has a host of endearing qualities: Its people, from west to east, are united by a wisdom and humour that would take a huge hit if the State is splintered. The spectacular diversity of the State has ensured against bigotry and naturally allowed the growth of inclusive politics. When Hindutva was at its peak, threatening the composite fabric of the State, a counter-revolution happened in the form of the rise of the backwards.

Ms. Mayawati owes her own remarkable ascendance to that indomitable spirit.

The copy has been corrected to fix an editing error.

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