Mayawati, the firebrand Chief Minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, has blown the trumpet of election by proposing her state be divided into four smaller parts. There is a saying that wars are won before they are fought, I wonder if the same can be said regarding elections. For, she has not stopped on proposing the division of UP. Last Monday, the state legislative assembly passed the resolution and with this the political score in the state seems to be: Advantage Mayawati. But is small beautiful? Let’s analyse this question. By creating new states largely on ethno-linguistic grounds, India has exemplified a promising model for diverse and heterogeneous societies. In 1956, on the basis of the States Reorganisation Commission report, 14 states and 16 union territories were created. Except for Bombay and Punjab, all the new states were formed on linguistic lines. Andhra Pradesh was the first state to be formed purely on linguistic lines. The examples of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are often cited by the protagonists of small states as small is better. But the experience of the North-East is not exactly happy. No other state in the country has witnessed the kind of vivisection as Assam has. And yet, Assam faces the threats of further fragmentation. First it was the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) which was carved out of Assam in 1948. Later NEFA was named as Arunachal Pradesh. In 1963, Nagaland was created by further dividing Assam. In 1972, Meghalaya and Mizoram were created. Today, demands for Bodoland, Karbiland, and Dimaraji for Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas respectively are becoming strident in Assam. Koch Rajbonshis, an ethnic community in the state, have joined the statehood bandwagon demanding a separate Kamtapur. Meghalaya too has its share of such demands. The ethnicity-based identity has been stretched to its limit in the North-East. The Centre is unlikely to accede to any such demand as statehood demands could be hijacked by rebels and insurgent groups. In any case, insurgency in the region has become the only growth industry. Practically in all states, movements for separate statehood exist, some dormant, others vigorously active. Demands for Mithilanchal and Seemanchal in Bihar, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Kaushal in Odisha, Gorkhaland in West Bengal and many others may turn out to be nasty if such demands are not handled judiciously. But some of these demands are sheer nonsensical, for they make neither political nor economic sense. India of today is very different from the India of yesteryears. It will be suicidal to grant all demands for separate statehood on grounds of separate ethnicity. Neglect and uneven development too cannot be the sole criterion for separate statehood.
There is no denying that the disappearance of single party rule at the Centre and the growth of regional politics have brought about a more federal polity, and a more equitable sharing of power. But fragmentation of the country on the basis of ever-narrowing identities hardly represents a stimulating idea of progressive India. The move by Mayawati is not out of cultural compulsions or identity crises of the regions, but out of political compulsions alone. If implemented, the division of Uttar Pradesh would lead to massive expenditure in developing towns and cities in the proposed states. However, politicians are least bothered as long as it leads to political gains. In 1947, Sardar Patel united the princely states with India. Now our politicians are talking about reversing that, which may have wider ramifications since similar demands are pending before other states, as mentioned above. In fact, the success of a state doesn’t depend on size but on leadership, good governance and sustainable development. If a CM believes in self-glorification and self-aggrandizement, there will be no hope for the people, however small the area or population to govern is. If the difficulty to manage, because of its size, is the reason behind the proposal to break UP into smaller states, it should be remembered that smaller states created earlier are not ideal for governance and development. It is Mayawati’s move to outrace her political competitors in the coming assembly election. People, from the local streets to the capital streets, want development to take place in their localities and they aspire for better access to all necessities. That necessarily doesn’t mean at all that we need more and more states. We need to think about the reforms that have to come in governance. We need to foster unity and rise above the local and partisan politics. We need strong states to create even the stronger Centre, to forge ahead and strategically manoeuvre India with a strong foreign policy in this globalised era. Will making of more states make a strong centre? Will the politics of splitting states help in local development and craft a strong centre? When development becomes difficult, politicians start thinking about division. But what politicians need is a vision, not division. India, as seen united, is our pride and strength. So are the states.