Other States

In prosperous west, plan to divide Uttar Pradesh finds few takers

It's early evening, and a group of farmers is sitting in this kasba — a mofussil town — playing cards. They are a motley lot, two Jaats, one Pal (an Other Backward Class community) and a Brahmin. Yes, they have heard of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's plans to divide the State into four parts — but they all think it's a bad idea.

“India was partitioned,” says Raghuvir Dayal Sharma, a farmer at Ratanpur village, which falls in the Dibai Assembly segment, “but as a result has either India or Pakistan prospered? Dividation [evocatively used in English] has never helped.”

The others join in, pointing out problems. After Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh a few years ago, they say, they have to pay all sorts of taxes when they travel there. Then, look at the yearly clashes between the farmers of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana every time the course of the Yamuna changes, altering the shape and size of their fields. More borders, more problems. This is just a ruse for politicians and officials to make more money.

Indeed, even five days after the announcement, which is being described in Delhi as a game changer, the issue has hardly made any ripple here in western Uttar Pradesh, though there has been a long-standing demand from the Ajit Singh-led, Jaat-dominated Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for a Harit Pradesh. The RLD has been virtually silent, locals say, because the party does not want to give the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) any advantage.

As I drive across western Uttar Pradesh — through the districts of Mathura, Agra, Etah, Kanshiramnagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Bareilly and Rampur — it is evident that Ms. Mayawati's new project has not really fired the public imagination. It hasn't sparked the anticipated public demands to hasten the process of creating a new State. Introduce the subject in a conversation, and you will meet with either indifference, cynicism or passionate opposition and, in only a few cases, unqualified support. The last comes from either diehard Jatavs (a prominent Dalit community, the backbone of the BSP), or a section of lawyers which has been agitating for a separate Bench of the High Court in western Uttar Pradesh, with Agra, Bareilly and Meerut all staking a claim.

A majority of Muslims I spoke to and farmers, cutting across the caste divide, were opposed to any division of the State. There is also a strong sense among all sections that Ms. Mayawati needed to neutralise the impact of the Allahabad High Court ordering the holding of civic body elections immediately, before the Assembly elections.

She has been delaying the elections as her party tends not to do so well in the cities. Besides, her political rivals say, she doesn't want the inevitable wrangling over the party ticket for the local body elections — which are to be fought on party symbols this time — to cast a shadow over the BSP's prospects in the Assembly elections due next year. But conversations with a wide cross-section, in both rural and urban areas, reveal that this attempt has failed. It isn't just the BSP's rivals who are describing the proposal to divide the State as a political gimmick; most people, too, see it as an attempt to distract their attention from the real issues.

In Fatehpur Sikri, the former corporator, Islam Quereshi, says that while dividing the State may hasten development, it will diminish Uttar Pradesh's political clout, which it derives from the 80 MPs it sends to the Lok Sabha. I hear this argument again in Agra's Muslim-dominated Mantola. “Muslims here are opposed to the idea of dividing the State,” says Siraj Quereshi, a local journalist, who lives in the area. “They feel they won't benefit either through enhanced development or politically.”

The sense is that if Paschim Pradesh is created, the dominant Jaats would claim the Chief Minister's chair, not the Muslims, though they are a numerically large and financially influential community here. In Bareilly, Tauqeer Raza, an influential religious leader, says: “Uttar Pradesh will lose its say in the country's politics, its clout, importance and respect.” And Sualeh Ali Khan, a member of the Rampur family, says: “It will reduce the State politics to the panchayat level.” For a political party to succeed in the State, it needs State-wide influence, representing a coalition of caste and religious interests, stretching from Ballia in the east to Meerut in the west.

“It's not become an election issue. Maybe, it's a point of discussion among educated people in the cities,” Raj Pratap Sisodia, the young Thakur pradhan of Nagla Sikandra village in the Tundla Assembly segment, says. “But here, we feel that Uttar Pradesh will lose its identity and strength. And if there is political will, development can take place, with or without division.”

Of course, division has its votaries. In Bareilly, Ghanshyam Sharma, president of the local Bar Association, vociferously supports the idea of division, saying it will ensure that the legal community's long-standing demand for a separate Bench is finally accepted. This sentiment is echoed by Shubendra Pathak, former chairman of the district bar association in Aligarh. The division of Uttar Pradesh, he adds, will make Paschim Pradesh the most prosperous of the four proposed States.

But even the legal community is divided: in the Agra district court, while Jatav lawyers describe the move as a “masterstroke,” Jaat and Thakur lawyers say it will only “multiply the money-making opportunities for politicians and officials.” In the Etah district court, a group of Kayastha and Brahmin lawyers points out that creating three new capitals would be prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, Uttar Pradesh will lose its political pre-eminence.

Evidently, western Uttar Pradesh, which should have been eager to accept the offer of a separate State, is not taking the bait — as yet.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 2:45:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-prosperous-west-plan-to-divide-uttar-pradesh-finds-few-takers/article2644423.ece

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