Splitting UP not a bad idea

AVINASH K. MISHRA | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on November 17, 2011

Mayawati’s proposal is no mere election gimmick; the idea has come up before


Mayawati rightly invoked Ambedkar, who had mooted small States for administrative, not parochial, reasons.

In her latest move proposing the splitting of Uttar Pradesh (UP) into four states — what is being seen by some as a political masterstroke ahead of elections to the State assembly early next year — the Chief Minister (CM), Ms Mayawati, invoked Dr B. R. Ambedkar. The Dalit icon and architect of India's Constitution, she claimed, was in favour of smaller States.

It is worthwhile, therefore, to actually look at what Dr. Ambedkar's views exactly were on the subject, and to what extent they match Ms Mayawati's proposals. It turns out that her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Government's resolution to reorganise the State into four smaller parts — namely, Poorvanchal with 28 districts of eastern UP, Paschim Pradesh with 17 districts of western UP, Bundelkhand with seven districts adjoining Madhya Pradesh, and Avadh with the remaining 23 districts in central UP — were pretty much in line with Dr Ambedkar's views of a reorganised India, detailed in his book, Thoughts on Linguistic States.

Of course, it can be argued that even if this is true, Ms Mayawati's action is a mere political gimmick, aimed mainly at the forthcoming Assembly elections. But that again ignores the fact that she had raised this issue even earlier in 2007, just after becoming Chief Minister, and has been consistently doing so during the years. At a rally in Lucknow in October 2007, Ms Mayawati called for a three-way split of UP into Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Poorvanchal Pradesh, which, she said, would help in improving the quality of life by making governance feasible in the backward areas of the State. She promised that her Government would pass a resolution in the Assembly, while seeking the Centre's approval in this regard (as required under Article 3 of the Constitution). In the same year, she wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to allow the proposed reorganisation, which she reiterated in March 2008, and again in December 2009, when the issue of Telangana became hot and shook up the national political establishment.


Coming back to Dr. Ambedkar, after Independence, the circumstances in the country favoured only a few territorial and functional arrangements of decentralisation. The decentralisation arrangements adopted soon proved inadequate. It was at that critical juncture that Dr. Ambedkar showed how linguistic reorganisation of the States of the Indian Union was possible, while, at the same time, rising above narrow and parochial considerations and imbibing a universal and cosmopolitan vision.

In his book — written in December 1955, just a year before he died — Dr Ambedkar proposed division of Madhya Pradesh (into two), Bihar (into two) and UP (into three: West, Central and East with their respective capitals at Meerut, Kanpur and Allahabad). Moreover, he advocated a special status for Bombay (as separate ‘City State') and Hyderabad (which, he felt, should become the country's ‘second capital' in view of it being “equidistant from all parts of India” and also a cultural melting pot that would “remove tension between the North and the South”).

Dr Ambedkar's proposals definitely factored in linguistic considerations. However, for him, it was not an end in itself. Reorganising States based on common language was useful only if it met the requirements of efficient administration and here it helped if a State was built on “a feeling of a corporate sentiment of oneness, which makes those who are charged with it feel that they are kith and kin”. But these were only to make governance easy and not for promoting provincialism and narrow parochialism.

Also, one had to take into account aspirations and sentiments of the people in different areas, even within a common linguistically organised State. Not for nothing, then, did the idea of merging the Andhra State and Hyderabad State (Telangana) into one not even occur to Dr Ambedkar, despite both being Telugu-speaking regions.

Unfortunately, Dr Ambedkar's views — radical for that time and also for today — remained out of mainstream public discourse, as the country's governing class opted for increasing centralisation of powers under the influence of powerful corporate interests. Nevertheless, what Ambedkar spoke nearly half a century ago, has proven to be prophetic: The demand for a separate Telangana never dies, MP and Bihar have been divided on the lines that he propounded, and the demand for creation of new states from UP has only gained traction with Ms Mayawati's latest so-called gimmick.


In fact, way back in 1972, 14 MLAs in UP — which was then ruled by the Congress under Mr Kamalapati Tripathi — moved a resolution for the creation of three new states (Braj Pradesh, Awadh Pradesh and Purbi Pradesh). It failed, apparently because the Congress leadership at the Centre didn't want a State where Muslims made up more than a quarter of the population, right under its nose. There are suggestions now of the Bharatiya Janata Party generating the same suspicions regarding Ms Mayawati's proposals.

Since 1972, Uttar Pradesh has had no CM besides Ms Mayawati, who has ruled for a full five years. She is also the first, in a long time, to have formed a Government with a clear majority. In that sense, seeking a break-up of UP may seem somewhat counter-intuitive. But that makes it all the more daring a venture.

One might probably link this to Ms Mayawati's own upbringing: Like Dr Ambedkar, who grew up in Mumbai, she too has her roots in city life in Delhi. That has made her less of a provincial politician with overt emotional attachment to the idea of a unified UP. Nor has she been keen on cultivating any particular pocketborough within the State (a la Mulayam Singh Yadav in Etawa-Mainpuri or Ajit Singh in the western UP Jat belt).

This relatively cosmopolitan outlook explains her audacious and unapologetic support for splitting UP into four, akin to Dr Ambedkar's proposal in 1955 to divide Maharashtra into three (four, including the ‘City State' of Bombay).

(The author teaches Political Science at RLAE College, University of Delhi. The views are personal.)

Published on November 17, 2011

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