In the latest salvo to the UPA, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has asked for whopping sums of money for the development of the state in return for her support to the ruling alliance. From power to expressways to fertilisers and flood relief, the Chief Minister wants the Centre to cough up. Now there is nothing inherently wrong — or uncommon — with Chief Ministers using political leverage to get the best deal for their states (or using such a manoeuvre as a ruse to push ahead one’s politics). But against the backdrop of her tall demands to the Centre comes violence in the state, as the BSP and arch-rival Samajwadi Party of former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav clashed. The SP, protesting the ban on student elections, found itself at the receiving end of the law when police manhandled Mr Yadav’s brother and two students died in the firing. With neither the BSP nor the SP in a mood to back off, the situation is likely to take a downturn.
This has been the fate of the beleaguered state as long as we can remember. Each successive government has given priority to settling scores with each other rather than focusing on the development of the desperately poor state. Even if the Centre were to rain much largesse on Mayawati, only the naïve would believe that there would be a significant turnaround in the development of the state for some time to come. While Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been able to more or less shake off the ‘Bimaru’ tag, UP is still way behind. When Mayawati came to power with a massive mandate, many had hoped that she would not waste time settling political scores and, instead, use her untrammelled power to pull the state out of its morass. So far, that has not happened.
From law and order to infrastructure, the state is lagging behind. While a Narendra Modi is able to successfully showcase his state as an attractive investment destination, India’s largest state and key to its political fortunes has little to show for itself. But the good news is that the BSP is making inroads into many other states in the country, strengthening the Chief Minister’s hands. Instead of continuing the tit-for-tat political battle in which UP becomes the collateral damage, she must use this upsurge of goodwill wisely and begin the task of rebuilding the state. She has ambitious plans for UP and these should not fall by the wayside due to political bickerings. Turning around the state’s fortunes would add momentum to the social justice juggernaut that Ms Mayawati has set off.