Mayawati's masterstroke

| Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on November 17, 2011

The Congress cannot readily support the UP demand without further queering the pitch in Andhra Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, has time and again shown that she possesses one of the shrewdest political brains in the country. Her latest proposal, to carve up Uttar Pradesh into four smaller states, is a political masterstroke that has unsettled the Opposition in the run-up to the early-2012 polls to the State Assembly. With the exception of the Samajwadi Party – which has opposed the division, given the potentially disastrous break-up of its caste and community-based vote bank – the mainstream national parties (Congress and the BJP) have been forced into an uncomfortable corner. Ideologically and politically, they may not be opposed to the proposal; but openly declaring their support would only give Ms. Mayawati the advantage she seeks in the upcoming elections. By moving ahead, she has managed to shift the focus of the political debate to State formation, and away from the issues of governance, development, law and order, and siphoning of money in welfare schemes.

The Congress, in particular, is in a bind. As the principal ruling party at the Centre, it cannot readily support the UP demand without further queering the pitch in Andhra Pradesh, where the agitation for a separate Telangana State has virtually paralysed the administration. On the other hand, doing well in the UP elections is equally important, since they could be the launch pad for Congress heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi's move to a larger role at the national level. A good show there – similar to the party's performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls – may, in fact, restore the legitimacy of a beleaguered Government at the Centre. Who knows, the Assembly polls could even give it a second wind and much-needed confidence to bring economic reforms back on the agenda.

As regards UP's division, there is certainly a compelling economic logic for it. Even after the formation of a separate Uttarakhand from its erstwhile hill districts, the State sprawls over nearly 2.5 lakh square kilometers, where some 200 million people live. On paper, the creation of Pashchim Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh and Poorvanchal should galvanise governance and focus policy attention to the specific needs of these culturally, geographically and economically diverse regions. In reality, though, the track record of creating smaller States has been mixed. While some like Chhattisgarh have done well in terms of attracting industry or even reforms of the public distribution system, they have not been free of corruption and governance-related problems. Moreover, they have also proved highly inept in handling the growing challenge posed by Maoist insurgency. But on the whole, the original logic for formation of States, based on linguistic commonality, has clearly been rendered obsolete. That definitely presents the case for a second States Reorganisation Commission – following the first one constituted in 1953 – that would examine these issues afresh.

Published on November 17, 2011

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