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The case against dividing Uttar Pradesh into smaller states

It’s easy to blame UP’s problems on its size, but what ails the state isn’t as simple as that.

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Every time Uttar Pradesh makes us cringe, we are tempted to think of the state’s size. It has a mind-boggling population of 220 million people. The argument is often that it’s a state too large to be governed from one state capital, by one chief minister.

Extrapolating this argument, one might also argue that India itself is too big to govern, that it’s too big to be one country. We are witness to how Prime Minister Narendra Modi shut down the entire country for weeks, and was still unable to prevent the Covid-19 graph from climbing higher.

However, nobody talks about India’s size as a liability. It is always seen as a strength. Its size gives the country international heft, provides it economies of scale, allows it to earn tax from its richer regions and spend them on the poorer ones.

The same arguments also apply to Uttar Pradesh. If the state was divided into smaller ones, it would be a loss for the poorer regions. Poorvanchal and Bundelkhand would be begging the centre for special packages, and only getting political propaganda in return. Being part of this big entity allows Lucknow to spend revenues from the richer west on the poorer east. It allows Lucknow to think big, like building a world-class highway from Delhi to Lucknow and expanding it eastwards.

The sordid Vikas Dubey ‘encounter’ has renewed calls to divide up UP. The most recent new state to be created in India was Telangana, where a rape-accused was similarly murdered in a brazen fake encounter, just a few months ago. It was by no means an exception for the Telangana police.

Also read: Uttar Pradesh is India’s broken heartland, break it into 4 or 5 states

Defang the CMO

If UP was divided into smaller states, it might still have fake encounters, depending on what the chief minister of the day thinks is the best way to deal with crime and its political repercussion. To end the kind of political protection and patronage Vikas Dubey enjoyed for 20 years, and to stop such medieval executions called ‘fake encounters’, we need something tougher than creating small states: police reforms. For long, there have been calls to make laws that give the police force a degree of autonomy and independence from the ruling party.

The size of administration argument is better applied at the district level. UP’s population has increased from 13 crore in 1991 to approximately 23 crore in 2020. Yet the number of districts has increased from 63 to only 75 in the same period. It might thus be more useful to double the number of districts in UP, than to divide the state. In any case, once smaller states are created they are likely to create smaller districts. Uttarakhand, that separated from UP in 2000, has 13 districts for a little over a crore people.

UP’s dead cities won’t be much better off with smaller states, because its chief ministers will still draw political power from the rural expanse rather than the resource-thirsty cities.

In 2016, I met the mayor of Varanasi. From him, I learned how the BJP has a permanent hold over the city’s municipal corporation. As part of a pact with the Japanese city of Kyoto, he had visited Kyoto. I asked him why he wasn’t bent on turning Varanasi into Kyoto, why its streets were still dirty with pollutants flowing into the Ganga. I thought he would blame the then Samajwadi Party in power in the state, but he refused to do so. He said when he visited Kyoto he was shocked to see how powerful the mayor there was. In Varanasi, he can’t even make a decision on a new waste management plant. It is Lucknow which makes such decisions.

That doesn’t change no matter which party comes to power in Lucknow, or in the Varanasi municipal corporation. If Purvanchal was a separate state, the Varanasi mayor still would still have puny powers, and a punier budget.

No chief minister wants to relinquish their powers. To be a chief minister in an Indian state is akin to being a king. This concentration of power affects villages as much as cities. The revolution India needs requires making the Zilla Sarpanch, the elected head of a district, more powerful than the district’s MP, MLAs and District Magistrate. India is said to be run by the PM, CM and DM, and of these three the last is an unelected extension of the chief minister’s office. That’s the crux of the problem, and it will hardly change with smaller states.

Also read: Vikas Dubey’s encounter brings focus back on Yogi Adityanath’s ‘thok do’ policy

Political instability

But these problems are shared by all states. Why is UP considered our worst governed state? The answer lies in the history of unstable governments from 1991 to 2007. This was the period when western and southern states made good use of a newly liberalised economy. But unstable governments in UP meant politicians were busy looting the treasury because they didn’t know when the next election could come upon them.

That changed in 2007, with Mayawati winning the first single-party majority in 17 years. Since then, the state has actually improved on many counts: roads, electricity, urban infrastructure, and even policing. Mayawati, followed by Akhilesh Yadav and now Yogi Adityanath, have in their own ways taken on the mafias in politics. The reduction in political competition with clear majority governments made this possible, Vikas Dubey notwithstanding.

The other problem with UP is that it is a poor state, especially its east, just like India’s eastern regions. This means the state has limited capacity, for example, to hire manpower. A senior UP bureaucrat tells me the state has only one panchayat secretary to look after eight Gram Panchayats. Whereas a state like Andhra Pradesh has a 10 member team overseeing the development of just 2,000 households, a system that is separate from the Gram Panchayats but works closely with them.

The lack of state capacity is seen in every aspect of governance in UP, especially eastwards. There is no government department that is not under-staffed — not even the police.

Also readYogi Adityanath said ‘gunda raj’ over and people bought it. But UP crime still the worst

The people don’t want a divided UP

An easy way to judge whether small states are a better idea, is to look at the new states that have been recently created. Data can be used to argue either way. Many would say Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have improved a lot since they were turned into new states, but so have their parent states, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand continue to suffer from a range of issues, from Left-wing extremism to deaths from hunger.

The argument that new states increase access to power for citizens, with the state capital coming closer, doesn’t really hold in the digital age. In any case, this argument is a reflection of how broken governance is at the district, tehsil, block, gram panchayat and municipal levels. Fixing this is much harder, but much more important and fruitful than creating new states. Even if UP is divided into smaller states, there will still be caste groups with their own mafia dons and the police will still be a law unto itself.

The real reason why UP may not be divided up into small states anytime soon is that there’s no demand for it from the public. The creation of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana, all happened due to sub-regional movements. It was identity politics, which can no doubt be very important. If adivasis in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand feel they need a state that protects their way of life, so be it.

But in UP, even the fledgling movement for a separate Bundelkhand has fizzled out. There’s no sub-regional identity politics in UP, because the common man in the state feels UP is India, a melting pot of the north.

It is understandable that people outside UP resent the heft the state gets in national politics with 80 Lok Sabha seats. Even the Gujarati Narendra Modi had to go through UP to show he wasn’t a regional, but a national leader. The people of UP realise how they come to define the national, and thus don’t desire being broken up into smaller states.

This heft may be decried as disproportionate, but it cuts both ways. The regional parties of UP — the SP and the BSP in particular — have also acted as a check and balance on New Delhi. Too many small states will be too easy for the central government to ride roughshod over. UP’s heft in national politics actually strengthens federalism.

The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.

Also read: Killing Vikas Dubey doesn’t end crime. For that, parties must let go of control over police


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  1. Each MP in Uttar Pradesh represents almost twice the number of people as an MP in Tamil Nadu. UP should have at least 110 MPs in Lok Sabha according to the 2011 Census.

  2. I find your (author’s) views very crowd pleasing and misguiding. Firstly, all bifurcated states are doing much better than they (themselves) were doing before their bifurcation. So kindly dont compare chhattisgarh and jharkhand with MP and Bihar respectively. Moreover, the left extremist is a special case associated with some locations. So dont generalise it as a whole just to prove your point.
    Secondly, most of the revenue collected in UP is mostly spent in few metros (that does not even include Kanpur, let alone Bundelkhand, as it is famously said taxes from kanpur reaps lucknow) . It is therefore very probable that after being separated, Bundelkhand will get usual state grants from centre that wont and cannot be used for lucknow , noida, varanasi and gorakhpur

  3. I find your (author’s) views very crowd pleasing and misguiding. Firstly, all bifurcated states are doing much better than they (themselves) were doing before their bifurcation. So kindly dont compare chhattisgarh and jharkhand with MP and Bihar respectively. Moreover, the left extremist is a special case associated with some locations. So dont generalise it as a whole just to prove your point.
    Secondly, most of the revenue collected in UP is mostly spent in few metros (that does not even include Kanpur, let alone Bundelkhand, as it is famously said taxes from kanpur reaps lucknow) . It is therefore very probable that after being separated, Bundelkhand will get usual state grants from centre that wont and cannot be used for lucknow , noida, varanasi and gorakhpur

  4. Stupid guy. Doesn’t know difference between 20 million and 200 million.

    And writes like high school essay student.

  5. UP should be divided into four parts.
    1 PURVANCHAL-(17 Districts)

    2 AWADH-(24 Districts)

    3 PASCHIMANCHAL-(27 districts)

    Union territory
    4 Bundelkhand (7 district)

    It is necessary to divide you don’t know we have to travel 700 km for Capital and 950 km for high Court
    Pain of a Paschimanchali

    • Exactly.. west UP’s recieves much less attention despite it generating the highest revenue for the the state. Despite that, wher ethe money of the west goes in development is far from known, given the corruption.
      Most of our works are easier to be done from Delhi rather than going all the way to Lucknow.
      But for legal state related work (like license, etc) we have to rely on Lucknow.

  6. For once I agree with Shivam Vij. Great points made. Normally I agree more with SG and his views, but I am with a Shivam on this one.

    Breaking up UP is no panacea. Lot needs to be done at district level and rural level before considering any other drastic governance changes.

  7. To divide was never and will never be a solution to problems.Divide and rule being policy of English to rule India!Germany which was divide to rule eventually broke down the Berlin Wall.While it may be good to create smaller administrative units(districts) dividing the states brings a load on exchequer in the form of new Capital,new officers etc etc. So yes let UP remain one state and don’t repeat mistakes of MP AP Bihar.

  8. Yes, crime and encounter killings are unlikely to stop if UP is divided into smaller states. But smaller states mean better governance and facilities, which can improve the lives of the poor. This in turn can make people less dependent on the largesse or support of mafia dons to get things done, thereby reducing the latter’s hold on politics.

    If you look at the HDI ranking of states, all the top ranking states are the smaller ones, while the bottom of the list is made up of the very big states. In fact, out of the 8 states with HDI below the India average, 6 are above average in size. The other 2 – Jharkhand and Assam – are just below the India average. So size does matter! Why for example, do all of the North-Eastern states have a better HDI than Assam?! Why do the more remote North-East states have a better HDI than both Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, even though they are all tribal dominated?! Incidentally, both of the latter states have a better HDI than their mother states, Bihar and MP.

    There’s only 24 hours and one brain a CM has to get things done. 5 CMs mean the time and effort, as well as the power to change things in UP gets multiplied by 5. In large states, some areas inadvertently get neglected. If Varanasi was the capital, or among the top cities in a state, the chances of a new waste management plant coming would increase.

  9. To put it mildly, breaking UP is less about the people of the state than saving democracy. Today, you can pretty much neglect votes from the richer southern states and still win a national mandate with UP on your side. MP and Chhattisgarh are split so is Jharkhand and Bihar, when it comes to popular vote and local governance. So these states allow for a natural check-and-balance to broader mandates.
    Now, there is no clear empirical evidence to show smaller states are bullied more, worse off in governance and can’t manage resources from the federal structure. In fact, it is the opposite. Moreover, it will allow for these regions to retain their linguistic and cultural identity among many things. Uttarakhand is Garhwali and Kumaoni, and not thakurs vs brahmins vs dalits vs yadavs. There is a reason that is the case, and that assertion of identity is not possible when you get pigeon-holed within larger narratives. Similar to how national media tries to understand regional and vernacular press..

  10. Cleverly argued article but not entirely convincing.
    The argument that ‘if UP should be divided then why not India too’ is dubious because India is already divided into 29 states, precisely in order to make it work better for its vast and diverse population. Keeping UP together just to cross subsidise one part of the state with resources from the other actually assumes that UP is a separate country and as if the problems of the state are entirely the business of only its residents. The fact is that if India is one country then the problems of every state are the problems of every Indian. To argue otherwise is to encourage a separatist mindset.
    The problem with UP thinking of itself as India is however that it has become a rent seeker using that special status via its political class – who can blackmail every government at the centre. The different regions of UP are home to huge amount of talent from farming and handicrafts to culture and intellectual work of the finest order and not giving them the chance to prove themselves is an insult to them.
    As for ‘lack of demand’, I don’t think anyone has actually bothered to ask the people what they really would like – the state is still dominated by brokers of all kinds claiming to represent the people while suppressing their real demands. An unbiased survey will reveal the truth easily.

  11. UP has a big problem of its size, JUST AS INDIA AS A COUNTRY HAS. In my comment to Mr. Gupta’s column I have written that Mayawati had said that the state should be broken up in four smaller states. If nobody talks about “India’s size as a liability”, that doesn’t mean that problem doesn’t exist. To be politically correct, or for their own reasons, people may not talk about so many things that they should be talking about. As a private individual I have argued mong friends that if UP is ungovernable, how can India, far bigger in size and diversity, be governable! Churchill had even said that, ‘if equator is a country, then India is a country’! To him, India as a country was an artificial or unnatural construct.

    But this doesn’t mean that UP doesn’t have other problems. For sure, it has a lot of other bugs, the biggest one being Adityanath.


  12. The author writes about India being big helps in distribution of resources and goes on telling poor areas of UP would suffer after bifurcation.

    Did he all of a sudden forgot the ‘India distributing resources to poorer region’ part which he himself wrote?

    Decentralisation of power and micro management of finance is the key.

    If the UP is bifurcated,
    -The corrupt politicians have lesser resource to plunder collectively
    -They’ll be held accountable at a local level.
    -The native people would be governing their respective regions which has better chance of improved administration and development of indigenous resources

    And what’s your issue with “identity politics” ?
    India remains ONE recognising all the identities. Stop being afraid of the diversity.
    That fear is comparable to that of an insecure lover who’ll end up spoiling a good relationship

  13. ‘India is big , but nobody is asking for India to be devided’ . Let that piece of arguement sink in first.

  14. I’m pretty sure that there are quite huge differences between us politically, but this is a wonderful article. I’ve always assumed that smaller states were better governed, but you’ve allowed me to challenge my assumptions. A wonderful article, I look to reading more such works of yours.

  15. I read Shekhar Gupta’s article. I read yours.
    I’m better convinced by this one.

    UP does not need smaller divisions. That would just be creating more ill functional states. Better would be to work out the root causes.

  16. Shivam must be congratulated for penning a very sensible article on UP. Looks like he has given up on his visceral anti Modi stance to get back his robust common sense! Welcome to good journalism! Keep it up Shivam!!

  17. Mr. Shekhar Gupta, I listen to your Cut the Clutter almost on a daily basis. You’ve done some really good work of journalism there without the usual cacophony which we see in media these days. However to your clarion call to subscribe to The Print with voluntary contribution has met with absolute disregard from my side – and the sole reason is Mr. Shivam Vij and similar left pamphleteer. I am a subscriber to NYT and WSJ but I will not spend a single penny for The Print as long as people like Vij continue to write for you.
    I listen to the podcast version of Cut the Clutter, so not giving you YouTube views and use ad blocker for your site. Apologies but you need to defang this left pamphleteer, he’s polluting journalism – bring in someone else with Left of Centre POV – I’m not antithetical to reading them even though I abhor the ideology.

    • I didn’t know there were percussionists who specialized in ‘beating’ around the bush! The different opinions in The Print makes it a standout in the present, polarized climate that your kind have created.

      • Well reading comprehension is an important skill to develop. As I wrote – I’m not averse to reading up Left of Centre POV, just that not from people like Vij who are mouthpiece for radical Left. And do know that it’s these Leftist policies that have afflicted our country and kept it a poor country in all of its essence. For polarized climate – it was always polarized, the social media has made it easy to express polarization. My kind – and I belong to a rare kind – despise Modi as much as Congress for Modi is continuing the Leftist/Socialist policies which made our country weak.

  18. The people from Western U.P definitely want a divided UP since last few decades, in contradiction to the statement made by the author.
    Why should west be the source of survival for the east?
    It is for the government to take responsibility for making east self reliant and bring it to the track of prosperity.
    It can only be done if the state is divided and eastern UP gets a separate government focussed upon its development and uplift.

  19. “Shoe I am “you STUPIDO. Good you are not focussing on writeup that discusses how reducing population through tough measures is what INDIA NEEDS. Also let me congratulate you on the way HINDUS were ill treated when they wanted to build temple in ISLAMABAD. We must continue to support anti CAA Protest that opposes return of HINDUS to INDIA. REMEMBER A WEAK INDIA IS WHAT’S NEEDED FOR CORRUPT POLITICIANS AND JOURNALISTS TO FLOURISH. MAMMAMIA.

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