The long and the short of Uttar Pradesh

Yogi Adityanath’s term as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) has perhaps brought the unprintable truth out again: That India’s greatest political problem is not Kashmir, not the Maoists of central India, not the “insurgents” of the North-east, not Pakistan, not China, but the existence of the everyday humanitarian disaster called Uttar Pradesh. U.P. has 80 seats in the Lok Sabha and 404 in its Assembly; and yet they bleed Indian “democracy”. In its violence, Yogi Adityanath’s term mirrors the political DNA of U.P. — a State that forces its governments to institutionalise communalism, casteism, injustice and maladministration. How do we make sense of U.P. as an idea within the Indian Union?

Ground realities

There has been a view that over this millennium, U.P. has witnessed some form of progress and lessening of inequality. But in the UN Human Development Index Report for 2017 (published in 2018), U.P. and Bihar scored the worst among all the States of India. A State Bank of India Research report of March 2019 showed that U.P. had not bettered its human development index over the last 27 years. Two surveys — one by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation called “Household Social Consumption” in its chapter on “Education” released in December 2019 and the other by NITI Aayog called “School Education Quality Index” that came out in October 2019 — measured the best performing States regarding participation of girl children. Kerala topped while U.P. came last in both. In both the reports, Uttarakhand, once a part of U.P., ranked high.

Evolution of communalism

The clichés about U.P. are true: Lawlessness, dacoity, communalism, caste killings, gender-based brutality, feudal-agrarian exploitation, unemployment and underemployment. A good part of its poor leads a sub-human life as migrant labour in urban India and outside. Onslaughts against its workers from nativist Maharashtrians, the exploitation of its labourers in West Asia; their illiteracy and poverty are everyday realities. There isn’t a social evil or fault-line in India, that is not roosting or thriving in it. Why? Because it is too big. Countries in Africa, Europe, and South America have fewer people than U.P. If U.P. is home to roughly 200 million people, how can it not sustain them?

As is customary, where the State is corrupt, callous and cruel, organised religion regulates life. U.P. is the mothership for the conservative and hard-line versions of both Hinduism and Islam in India. Since modernity and governments crater here, older forms of social anchoring have a solid social hold. In such circumstances, when ordinary humans view the state as the foe, godmen and goondas provide a path out of woe. Very often, political power is seized by stoking caste and religious embers. Communalism and casteism are rife for they constitute concrete capital. There is a large amount of scholarship on the evolution of communalism in U.P. and its malleable forms. A recent addition to the area is “Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh” by the scholars Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar, which explains how localised, regular, “small” communal conflagrations are manufactured. Ergo it is a State on the boil all the time. So much for Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.

Crime data

Each citizen in U.P. grows up in an environment that legitimises criminality. The “Crime in India Report” for the year 2017 was released by the National Crime Records Bureau last year. U.P. topped the list with 10% of India’s total crime and three lakh registered First Information Reports (FIRs). It outdid every State on crimes against women, with 56,011 out of 3,59,849 cases all over India. U.P. leads in arms possession and gun licences. Home Ministry data released in 2016 showed the State authorised gun licences for 12.77 lakh people, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) where 3.69 lakh people possessed arms licences. And we are only speaking of legally owned arms. One study published in 2015, said that of nearly three lakh cases registered in the country for illegal possession of arms, U.P. accounted for 1.5 lakh. There is rich work in the social sciences that examines the spurt in ethnic conflict in “traditional” societies. When any change such as “modernity” or “democracy”, is attempted, it usually activates nativist identity politics. Simply put, an outcome of independence from Britain resulted in Partition, in Ceylon/Sri Lanka it vented the simmering rage of Sinhala nationalism against minority Tamils, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 provided new fuel to the Sunni-Shia fires. Clearly, “democratisation” and “modernisation” are suspect.

Similarly, Hindu-Muslim and caste conflict are U.P.’s reflex responses to the vagaries and pressures of so-called modernisation — the unevenness modernisation exacerbates in an already uneven society, pushes U.P.’s citizenry into collective religious and caste cul-de-sacs. Pankaj Mishra has argued in his recent books, how modernisation, almost everywhere, is ridden with bloodshed. The purveyors of the Enlightenment, and capitalists and communists alike, avoided confronting this central feature, for it would stymie their vision of human progress.

One of the strongest arguments for the breaking up of U.P. is its internal neglect. Over the last 30 years or more, Purvanchal (east U.P.), Bundelkhand, Awadh (central U.P.) and Paschim Pradesh (west U.P.), have been fighting for resources and separation from U.P.’s power centres. These areas struggle even for water. Uttarakhand split from U.P. and there is no doubt that it has progressed since. In the ‘Report of the States Reorganisation Commission’, first published in 1955, the historian K.M. Panikkar, who was one of its panel members, added a 10-page note on the disproportionate size of U.P. Commenting on the matter he wrote: “It would be easy to see that this preponderant influence which would accrue to a very large unit could be abused, and would in any case be resented by all the other constituent units.” He was signalling a clear challenge for India’s federalism.

In the 2020s, for the sake of U.P.’s citizens and Indian democracy, it is imperative to begin democratically discussing the division of U.P. Its long-damaged psyche yearns to be healed.

Rahul Jayaram teaches at the Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities, Sonipat, Haryana

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 8:41:04 PM |

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