It was the late professor Ashish Bose of the Institute of Economic Growth who came up with the acronym ‘BIMARU’ for those massively under-performing states of the Union: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. In the three decades since professor Bose’s inspired coinage Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have made moderate progress. These states are by no means as developed as Kerala or Tamil Nadu, but they are, on the whole, on a forward path. Madhya Pradesh, for example, has clocked impressive rates of agricultural growth in recent years. Meanwhile, Bihar has moved away from the Jungle Raj of Lalu Prasad; and Rajasthan is no longer typecast as the land where Roop Kanwar was forced to commit sati.
But UP remains sick, bimar. Agricultural growth is sluggish; industry is stagnant; the health and education sectors are in a shambles; law-and-order is erratic. So desperate are its citizens that even those with Ph D’s are known to apply for a peon’s job in a Government office.
Symptomatic of the current state of UP is the situation in its largest city, Kanpur. This was once a major industrial centre, producing leather goods, chemical products, and much else. Indeed, the industrial sector was once so vigorous in Kanpur that its working class was large and active enough to send a Communist as a Member of Parliament. The capitalist West was also impressed by Kanpur’s industrial reputation, as witness the decision of the United States to collaborate in the setting up here of one of the early Indian Institutes of Technology.
Those who knew Kanpur in its heyday would not recognise it now. The older industries in the city are dead or dying. Meanwhile, a friend from Kanpur tells me, the fastest growing businesses in the city include bottled water, generator sets, the provision of security guards, and private schools. That private entrepreneurs have to supply these services is reflective of the shocking failures of the State. For among the first duties of a modern and democratic government is the provision of clean water, regular electricity, law and order, and school education to its citizens. But the government of UP can do none of the above — and cannot do many other things a modern state should do either.
(Incidentally, as governance in Uttar Pradesh has further deteriorated, the reputation of its finest educational institution has suffered collateral damage. From the 1960s to the 1980s, IIT Kanpur was the top ranked IIT, favoured by the best students and faculty alike; now, the IITs in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai rank ahead of it.)
Why is Uttar Pradesh so badly governed? One reason is that it remains trapped in the vortex of identity politics. In this state, politicians are assessed not on the grounds of what services they deliver, but on the basis of what caste and religious groups they represent or favour. This is strikingly manifest in the press coverage of the recent election campaign in the State, where few reporters have focused on issues of development or governance, reserving their energies instead on understanding what caste fragment was allying with which religious sect.
The political leaders of UP have encouraged this narrow framing of elections and of democracy itself. No major UP politician has sought to move beyond identity politics to larger issues of governance. Akhilesh Yadav’s recent projection of himself as a Vikash Purush is too belated and half-hearted to be convincing. The BJP, for its part, started its campaign promising Modi-style development; latterly, it seems to have placed its bets instead on Hindu-Muslim polarisation. In this respect at least Mayawati is less hypocritical; asking consistently for a Dalit-Muslim consolidation behind her party.
But surely a second reason that UP is so poorly administered is its size. Were it an independent nation, it would be the fifth most populated country. How can it then be effectively run as a single territorial and administrative unit? The BJP once argued in favour of the creation of smaller states; now, with the chance of augmenting its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, it has stayed silent on this question when it comes to UP. As chief minister, Maywati once had a resolution passed urging the division of UP; now she has reneged on that. Perhaps she sees the capture of an undivided UP as a stepping-stone to a larger role in national politics.
The ‘U’ in UP is said to stand for ‘Uttar’. This is a misnomer, for there are several states of the Union that lie further north of it. What the ‘U’ in UP really stands for is ‘Ungovernable’. And that status will not materially change whoever wins this current Assembly election. For the sick state of UP to become healthy at last, it must first be divided into three or four self-governing parts.
Ramachandra Guha’s books include Gandhi Before India.
The views expressed are personal