February 16, 2020
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The Mayawati Math

She’s seeking a role beyond a state, but reorganising UP is overdue

The Mayawati Math
Illustration by Sorit
The Mayawati Math

When an empress or emperor suo motu begins the process of dismembering the empire, we need to probe beneath the surface. For starters, the hacking would have been initiated because of perceived gains in the short run. Secondly, the process would also have been started because of the confidence of being able to reinvent oneself in the post-disintegration scenario. But, more importantly, the process may have been initiated because of the realisation that sooner or later the empire will either wilt on its own or the demand for dismantling it would come from other quarters—then it would be too late to claim any credit.

Mayawati is no empress yet. But the 2007 assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh had elevated her to the level of a chieftain. With elections round the corner, she has seized the initiative by calling for dismantling the very state that gave her a comfortable majority. So why has Behenji initiated the process of splitting UP into four new states? To begin with, she knows that there is no way that new states will be formed immediatel, while the resolution will enable her to seek votes in the name of the promised lands.

Beyond this short-term electoral strategy lies a larger gameplan. The Bahujan Samaj Party—like most other political parties with political influence restricted to a state or two—has been a closely-held organisation where the writ of the ‘leader’ runs large. In UP, the party and government are synonymous with each other. By initiating the formation of smaller states in place of the behemoth, Mayawati has indicated that her sights are now set beyond the state.

She can neither be chief minister of all the four new states nor will she be content with being CM of just one state. Clearly, she is envisioning a bigger role for herself beyond today’s UP. With this move, Mayawati has indicated that she is prepared for regional chieftains to emerge in the party. Purely from the point of democratising Indian political parties, this is a positive outcome.

She has also made this move because she realises that states will only become smaller in years to come. Instead of regional satraps being firmly entrenched in a single state—as they are now—they will henceforth have to wield political influence spread over a clutch of states to emerge as gamechangers at the Centre in the coalition era.

The manner in which the Centre has (mis)handled the Telangana issue has only upped the ante of votaries of smaller states. Movements for a separate Vidarbha, Marathwada, Saurashtra, Mithilanchal, Bhojpur, Coorg and several more are just waiting for the right moment to kick off and add to the ongoing agitation for Gorkhaland.

The matter of reorganisation of states has engaged the political leadership from the time of Independence. The Constituent Assembly even appointed a committee and this was followed by the Nehru government’s decision in 1953 to establish the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) whose report formed the basis of redrawing India’s political map in 1956 and again in 1960. There were several contradictions—and unresolved issues—in the SRC report. This has been evident in the manner in which states were recast periodically—the latest being in 2000 when Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh were formed.

Unfortunately, the SRC did not sufficiently examine the option of restructuring UP given its identity as ‘heartland’ and the belief that whoever governed the state would rule India. The Congress clearly did not wish to restructure UP, given its political hegemony in the state. Even when Uttarakhand was hived off, few questions were raised about the historical falsity of UP.

The behemoth was established as an administrative entity because of the colonial conquest of what was initially called Upper India and later became United Province. The Congress did not tamper with this unit because of its emergence as a nationalist bastion during the freedom struggle. But contradictions remained between people over culture, dialect and political choice.

After having dragged its feet on forming a second states reorganisation commission, the Centre must act swiftly if it does not want a dozen Telangana-like situations in different corners of India. Redrawing India’s political map has become imperative as there is no single principle in existence.

If Maharashtra and Gujarat exist separately for linguistic reasons, then Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP for reasons of regional neglect and development. This duplicity has to end. Smaller states will force parties to become more democratic as ‘high commands’ will have more chieftains to contend with. This would be good for Indian polity.

(The author is a print and TV journalist who looks closely at political developments.)

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