Death of a Nation-State – Elegy for Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh chief minister and head of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Mayawati sent her private jet to pick up a pair of sandals, according to leaked US diplomatic cables. US embassy cables from 2007 to 2009 released by the WikiLeaks website in recent days describe Mayawati, 55, as “a first-rate egomaniac” who “is obsessed with becoming prime minister”.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) has been the one of the jewels in India’s crown for a long time. Apart from the historical and religious hotspots that dot this land, it’s also been center stage for national politics, independence related activism, education and intellectualism. The important phases of the Indian

and this sub-continent’s history can be traced back to this state/region. Some of the most influential and gifted statesmen/stateswomen, authors, poets, scientists, educationist, intellectuals, and celebrities have their roots or moorings in this state.

Located in the northern part of India, UP is one of the largest Indian states with a population of over 180+ million. By this qualification itself it becomes one of the most populous states in India and one of the most populous country sub-division in the world. Had it been an independent nation, it would have been the world’s sixth biggest country in terms of population. Geographically, it is one the most fertile regions of the country with abundance of water and cultivable land, thus making it a major contributor to the national foodgrain stock and also the home of almost 80% of India’s livestock population.

But this rich and powerful state has fallen on hard times lately. This is my elegy to a once proud region of India.

Present day UP doesn�t find any mention in the ancient text of India. However, there is documented evidence of “Madhya Desh” which roughly covers the regions that constitute the present state and sections of adjoining states. It has thus been from ancient times the cradle of Hindu, Buddhist, Jainism and the Indo-Islamic culture.

With such a huge population and 80 seats that it provides the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament), UP has been the political lab of India. It represents the most important province of India as far as political supremacy is concerned and in some ways dictates who holds the power at the center in India’s form of governance.

Although UP has been the front-runner in the national politics, its own political history has hardly ever been stable. Right from ancient times, this region has been rocked by battles between rival kingdoms fighting each other for the sake of ego or for a bigger share of the pie. Since then till date the state has always been divided in one way or the other. I can safely say that the only time the state stood united politically as one, was when India fought its First War of Independence against the British in 1857. Incidentally, after the war the English reorganized the state and gave it the name “United Province (UP)”, an ironic abbreviation that it carries till date.

From 1947 till the early 90s, the political scene of India had been dominated by the Congress, which carried its pre-independence halo of being the savior of India and the party with which Mahatma Gandhi and other stalwarts were associated. This formula worked like a charm as the party held on to the government with unrivaled supremacy. However the Mandal Commission recommendations of 1990 brought the Congress juggernaut to almost a halt and changed the political landscape of India forever.

For selfish political interests, myopic politicians opened this Pandora’s box without giving an ounce of thought on correct implementation strategy. And so, rather than alleviate the deprived sections of Indian society, this move ripped apart the fragile, delicately intertwined socio-political structure of the entire nation and created gaping abyssical fault lines in its society.

UP became one the worst hit states of the Indian union from the resulting backlash from the Mandal Commission and has never recovered from it. The final nail in its coffin came in the form of the extreme Hindu movement which further fragmented the society. Famed for its multilingual, multiethnic, multi-denominational character, the state that prided itself on its unique brand of socio-cultural distinctness now stands as a divided house. Because of this fracturing of its social structure, the state since the 90s has been repeatedly raped and plundered by all political parties in order to gain power to dominate central politics. The 80 Lok Sabha seats that UP brings to center – the reason for its erstwhile political clout – is now the cross of misfortune that it carries.

As mentioned earlier, this region has been from ancient times the land where most of the Indian civilization has concentrated and it has been more than hospitable. As wave upon wave of humanity settled in and grew, this region in one way became the microcosm of India. Over the centuries the people of different communities, religions, and caste had learnt to accept each other’s difference and live cordially if not totally peacefully. This cordiality was directly reflected in the electoral mandate that the people of the state provided to the then dominant party – Congress. In hindsight, not all blame can be put on Mandal Commission, as the seeds of fragmentation were initially sowed by the Congress itself – an act for which it has been paying dearly till date but doesn’t seem to learn.

From the 1990s the people have been voting more based on caste than on any issues. UP still has a vast majority of its population which lives in poverty or sub-standard living. A good percentage of the electorate of this state is uneducated and ill-informed about the outside world. This has been used by political agents to the hilt � fanning communalism and caste-ism to insanely high levels. So the outcome of the division of the electorate, the inculcation of community, caste based hatred and fear has been that an erstwhile wrestler who claims to be socialist becoming a leader of one political party and a egomaniac schoolteacher of humble origins becoming a leader of another. Both of them make no bones about their inclinations to absolute power, wealth, and autocracy.

And where has this left the people? Well, the once famous “hindi heartland” is now called the “cow-belt” with a predominant negative connotation. Life continues in sub-standard living conditions and abject poverty. The society has been so polarized and antagonized against each other that they are absolutely oblivious to the fact that the rest of the nation develops at breakneck speed. What was once the textile and educational mainstay of India is now many years behind other developing states. The health and infrastructure condition continues to deteriorate to no end. With the fractured mandate and elected governments been ushered out at an alarming fast frequency, the administration machinery of the state has completely collapsed leading to spiraling crime, terrorist activities, mis-governance, mafia-rule, the rise of political vendetta and witch-hunting.

The state�s universities that once produced the maximum number of Indian administrative officials across India now lie in ruins. Allahabad University that was called “The Oxford of the East” and prided itself to have luminaries such Dr. Meghnad Saha, Dr. A.N. Jha, Dr.G.N Jha, Sir Sundar Lal, Sir P.C.Bannerji as its professors, is now a place where country made bombs and handguns are made/carried/used within its hallowed grounds. These high seats of learning have not been spared by the prevailing political winds, and have become the breeding grounds of criminals and political aspirants, thus completely removing the cherished ideals of education that were once enshrined in them.

The fortunate people of the state send their children to other states to gain education with a silent prayer that they never have to return to their homelands. The less fortunate send their children to become migrant labors in other states, where they are butchered (like in Assam) or live with fear as second grade citizens in their own country (like in Mumbai). Both these class of migrants, “strangers in a strange land” live in their adopted homes with shame and ignominy. They try to hide (or avoid) where they come from, lest some people make caustic and crude comments about their place of origin- which invariably they do. The people who fall through the cracks between the “fortunate” and “less-fortunate” have resigned to their fate and have accepted the inevitable – to rot to extinction just like the state that they live in.

I don’t believe that just because a state is large it can’t be governed efficiently and developed. Texas in the USA is a large state – they don’t seem to have any problems. Closer home, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh are also not that small. However, I do agree that India has not reached the high stage of governance efficiency and transparency as the US has. I also agree that the other developed Indian states have high levels of literacy and awareness. But the problems that plague UP are complexly dove-tailed into one another thus creating a vicious cycle. It is only through some drastic measures that these problems can be eradicated and the state�s fast decent into anarchy can be broken.

I believe that the trifurcation of UP would benefit it from one angle. And, that is the reduction of seats that it provides the Lok Sabha as a single entity and hence make it less important for political piranhas. This way it will get away from the eyes of power thirsty and wealth hungry corrupt politicians and maybe, just maybe the people will have a chance for a better tomorrow.

In any case, it will be the death of a Nation-state. More than rejoicing it is a time for mourning.

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