x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Critics say bid to split crucial Indian state is election ruse

The plan to split India's Uttar Pradesh into four states is a shrewd political move by the state's chief minister, Mayawati, making her a bigger political player in wider Indian political circles.

NEW DELHI // The proposal to split India's Uttar Pradesh into four states is a shrewd political move by its bold and brash chief minister, opponents say.

The bid by Mayawati comes ahead of statewide elections.

It is easy to see why she chose this moment to push through the resolution in the state assembly, which needs federal approval to take effect.

She has faced increased pressure in recent years over allegations of corruption and a burgeoning bank balance with no apparent source of income beyond her modest government salary.

Her 2010 tax return states she has 880 million rupees (Dh62.1m) in assets. She is widely expected to lose a significant amount of seats in elections expected early next year.

With 75 districts and 400 members in the state assembly, Mayawati controls one of the most influential regional parties in the country.

The state is where Rahul Gandhi, a member of the lower house of India's parliament, Lok Sabha, and widely rumoured as being groomed to head the ruling Congress party, holds his constituency.

Dividing the state makes Mayawati a bigger political player in wider Indian political circles.

Her political party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is a regional party, could field up to four chief ministerial candidates in the new states, drawing enough support to make it a national party and increase her chances of declaring herself a prime ministerial candidate in 2014.

Ten of 12 prime ministers of India since 1947 were from Uttar Pradesh.

In response to the resolution, Manish Tiwari, the Congress party's spokesman, said: "Why was it not done before, during their rule of four and three-quarters years?

"If somebody feels the people of UP can be taken for a ride, then they are wrong. This is a politically motivated resolution and the people of UP will give them a befitting reply."

The Congress and Communist parties are opposition parties to Mayawati's BSP in Uttar Pradesh.

The Communist Party of India echoed the Congress party's anger, saying no debate was allowed on the resolution before it was passed.

"The problem is that she has done this at the end of the tenure," said D Raja, a member of the Communist party. "She could have done this in advance, which would have raised a proper debate between the political parties. This issue needs time to be examined."

While opponents claim Mayawati used the proposal to deflect accusations of corruption against herself and her party, supporters said the division would mean better governed states. "Uttar Pradesh is certainly ripe for carving up into smaller states," said BG Verghese, the author of Rage, Reconciliation and Security: Managing India's Diversities. The book examines India's larger states, such as Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and their language, culture and struggles with insurgency.

Home to 200 million Indians, Uttar Pradesh is the country's most populous state, according to the 2011 census, and home to more people in the world than all but four countries.

The sheer number of residents hampers the state government's ability to provide services to the population, Mr Verghese said.

"Smaller states allow for better governance, greater accountability, cohesion and more interstate coordination to build roads or tackle crime," he added.

The proposed divisions into the states of Awadh Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Paschim Pradesh are not arbitrary. Awadh Pradesh and Bundelkhand were princely states before colonisation by the British.

Purvanchal and Paschim Pradesh have maintained a distinct cultural identity, separate from the rest of the state.

Although most people in Uttar Pradesh speak Hindustani, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, areas within the state continue to be divided along linguistic lines.

Bhojpuri is the language of choice in the Purvanchal region and the neighbouring state of Bihar, while the local language in Bundelkhand is Bundeli, a dialect of the Hindi language.

After India was formed in 1947, smaller princely states became part of larger states, including Bundelkhand, parts of which still lie in the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh. Dividing the state would not only make it more manageable, but reverse the often arbitrary political groupings of people that occurred under the British.

This would not be the first time the state was divided. In 2000, three new states were created out of the country's biggest Hindi speaking populations. Uttarakhand was formed from northern Uttar Pradesh; Chattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand from the southern part of Bihar.

Mr Verghese agreed more work must be done before Uttar Pradesh could be split.

"It cannot all be done in one stroke. One has to take their time because there are issues of sharing assets", including bodies of water, he said.

The final decision lies with the Indian parliament. It is expected to vote on the issue during its winter session, which began on Tuesday.

The central government is likely to reject the proposal. They are already in a bind over the proposed creation of the state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.

The agreement to divide Andhra Pradesh sparked anger and violence from other groups in the state seeking separate statehood.

The creation of Telangana is now on indefinite hold.

There has been increasing and often violent calls for new statehoods in recent years, including the demand to create Telangana as well as Gorkhaland in West Bengal.

 

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae