The big fight is still a year away but squirming and skirmishing has begun- to get a toehold and then to exert killing pressure on the adversary from a position of advantage. The proposals to trifurcate UP appear to be part of this strategy.
Amar Singh, who once strutted the stage as Mulayam's maverick, is touring the zone that aspires for statehood as Purvanchal. This is where Azamgarh, beloved of self-styled secularists, is located and the region is notorious for musclemen who do what the highest bidder wishes. It is also known for strong caste and community ties.
There was a time when Amar Singh was a force to reckon with—he had Netaji's ear and he openly flaunted his Thakur identity. From unsheathing historic swords to supposedly restoring lost honour to exhibiting industrial top honchos and Bollywood celebrities, there wasn’t a trick in his bag that was not employed to mesmerize the masses. Witty and acerbic, quoting an apt Urdu or Hindi couplet, he appeared to be the man of the moment. Alas! Those days are gone and his image is severely dented. His Purvanchal Yatra didn’t start with a bang but is certainly going to end with a whimper. For one, desperate to regain the spotlight and lost ground, he has spread himself too thin and allegations of money laundering continue to simmer on the back burner, threatening to boil over any time. But more important is his failure to marshal convincing arguments in favour of a new state carved out of the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh. True, this area has an identity quite distinct from Awadh but the masses don't suffer from the sense of alienation and exploitation that was the lot of the hill districts that today form Uttarakhand or the minerals rich belt of Bihar that emerged as Jharkhand. Nor is the situation comparable to Chhattisgarh.
The demand for a Harit Pradesh— formation of a new state in the Jat heartland— has been there for along time. People in the western parts of UP, adjacent to Delhi and Haryana, have little in common with those who dwell in Awadh or further east. Rough and rustic, the kinship ties that bind them together spread in a different direction. There was a time when Chaudhary Charan Singh ruled the roost and had a reputation for impeccable integrity. He ran UP with an iron hand and projected himself as kkisan neta— saviour of the farmers. The mystique evaporated very fast once he entered mational politics. He was totally out of depth and exposed as a man caught in a time warp. The Gandhian exterior was a thin veneer and underneath lay a tradition-bound conservative resistant to any change and partial to his caste. Inspired by Lohia, the anti-Congress coalition of largely the backward castes he cobbled together in the mid 1960s couldn’t survive long. Regrettably, no other leader from this region has even reached that stature since. The greatest disappointment has been his son. His crass opportunism has cost him dear. He had made his debut as UP’s, maybe India’s, ‘hope for the future’. His ambition has shrunk drastically with the passage of years. His party, reduced to a rump, comprises little more than the father and son in the parliament. His thunder was stolen early by bullies like Tikait who could amass unruly crowds and hold the capital to ransom at will. Ajit Singh has nothing new to offer. To remain in news, he lends his support to the demand for a Harit Pradesh. Once again, there is a lack of specifics besides harping on the ‘grievances’ of the farmers who feed the nation. Ironically, the farmers in this region have seldom suffered deprivations and disabilities like those who toil in the killing fields of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Though accepting a dalit, and that too a woman, is not easy for macho men here, it is difficult to imagine that the battlecry for a new state can be cashed in during the elections next year.
That brings us to Bundelkhand that has had the good fortune of crown prince Rahul Gandhi taking up its cause and focusing on its chronic misfortunes. Ever since he sat on a dharna outside the DM’s office there, Mayawati has been a bit apprehensive. Once Mayawati was planning to use Bundelkhand as a beach-head to expand her circle of influence to Madhya Pradesh. After repeated disappointments, she seems to have given up and is may be more amenable to part with this troublesome bit of real estate. In drought-prone arid Bundelkhand, what can bring a smile back on starved faces are relief packages and development schemes, not pipe dreams of a state.
In the final analysis, it will be Mayawati who will have the decisive say on the future of UP; whether it will remain intact in the foreseeable future or split up. The crucial question is whether she would really like to be the queen empress of a much smaller domain? She is much too shrewd a politician not to know that size alone doesn't matter. It is much better, perhaps, to be unchallenged master of a compact fiefdom where the flock can be kept together far more easily. Identity politics, she knows well, can’t be overlaid on the entire map.
Without tying ourselves in knots about 'centre and periphery' relations, we can safely say that this idle debate is likely to continue for years without concluding and without having any significant impact on the voting behaviour of the people. All that remains is one last question. They say that the whole is always more than a sum of its parts. But what about the parts? Do they retain something of the whole once they are splintered?