Why Uttar Pradesh Matters For The India Story
The polls in Uttar Pradesh matter for they will script the next stanzas of the political poetry.
A victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party is crucial for it would be interpreted as a continuation of subscription that delivered 71 seats for the party in the 2014 polls. It will enable the BJP to improve numerical strength in the Rajya Sabha where its agenda is frequently blockaded, a victory will arm the BJP to call the shots in choosing who will be the next President of India this summer.
A defeat could be interpreted as dilution of the Modi magic that has propelled the expansion of the party’s footprint. At an individual level, it is crucial for BJP President Amit Shah – following the setbacks in Delhi and in Bihar. A loss will also drive the wedge deeper in the troubled equations within the Parivar. The possibility of defeat and the potential implications are already currency in the futures bazaar of politics. There is the fear of politics and policy going populist, indeed race downhill. There is the worry that legislation relating to critical reforms will be stalled.
A victory for the front led by Akhilesh Yadav could provide a face to renew the ideas of National Front, United Front or a new avatar of old algebraic equations. It could sustain, on the margins, the relevance of the Congress. It could also foment the revival of the rejected, the consolidation of anti-BJP parties and a resurrection of the index of opposition unity.
But more importantly, the 2017 elections matter because Uttar Pradesh is critical to the India Story.
Uttar Pradesh is a crucible of hope and despair. It mirrors the distance between promise and performance; between what could be and what is; between Bharat and India.
Every challenge that restrains Bharat, and therefore India, is reflected in the data set on Uttar Pradesh – poverty, a flailing model of agriculture, the broken system of education, security, urbanisation et al. In 1960, seventeen districts of U.P. were on the worst districts national list. In 2016, sixteen of them continued to be on it. The magnitude of its challenge and the opportunity for transformation is reflected in its scale.
Political Presence: Quality Versus Quantity
Misery is an atheist in Uttar Pradesh – it has persisted amidst faith in varied claims of intent. The backwardness of the state is about scale, and it is about the quality of political representation. Remember, barring Morarji Desai, PV Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh, every prime minister in 70 years has either been from Uttar Pradesh or has been elected from Uttar Pradesh. Yet the state has lagged.
The BJP has been campaigning about a Congress Mukt Bharat (Congress-free India) for better governance. Well, Uttar Pradesh has been Congress Mukt since 1989. It is frequently argued by chieftains of regional parties that they truly represent the interests of the people. The outcomes achieved in multiple tenures of the BSP and SP – sometimes with the Congress and the BJP as pillion riders – scarcely validate this claim.
Uttar Pradesh mirrors the reality of Bharat, why the dream of demographic dividend could well turn into a nightmare.
Uttar Pradesh Is Not Just Another State
- It has 97,942 villages overseen by 70-plus districts spread across 240,928 square km.
- With over 20 crore persons or 16 percent of India, it is the most populous state.
- It has the largest number of persons below poverty line – over 4.8 crore or over 22 percent of the poorest.
The Tendulkar methodology places nearly 3 of 10 persons in U.P. as living below the poverty line. Income levels give a sense of how far behind Uttar Pradesh is trailing other states. Per capita income at Rs 48,500 per year is just around half of the average national per capita income and even trails Odisha and Madhya Pradesh on the Bimaru states list. Rural per capita income is worse at around Rs 25,000, and eight of ten persons are living in rural areas.
Poverty has been both the cause and consequence of multiple failures. The state has the highest crude birth rate and fertility ratio. An astonishing factoid is that one in ten married women had 7 or more kids, or more women have had seven plus kids than in the next four states. Lack of resources, poor state capacity and rapacious politics has left Uttar Pradesh a textbook case of poor governance.
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Social Indicators Point To Failure
The stark reflection of this is visible across human development indicators. Uttar Pradesh has the highest rate of malnutrition with every second child under five suffering from stunting, high infant and under-5 mortality, shocking levels of maternal mortality and nearly six of ten households are used to defecating in the open.
Infant mortality in Uttar Pradesh is worse than Kiribati, Myanmar, and Gambia; thanks to the combination of low allocations, poor habitat, and inadequate health care.
The Socio Economic Census is a testimony of many failures. How does Uttar Pradesh fare in terms of literacy? The state has an overall literacy rate of 67 percent – trailing the Indian average by a decade. What aggravates the lag-effect is the dispersal of the aggregate. Nearly every second person in half a dozen districts, like Shrawasti, are illiterate.
Urbanisation is now a proven multiplier of growth and an enhancer of human development.
Within this landscape, three of ten persons do not own land and of those who do own land only half have access to irrigation.
To appreciate the magnitude of the demographic challenge consider the data. Uttar Pradesh has over 11.7 crore people in the age group of 15 to 65, representing the urgency and need for job creation. Less than a third of the students have completed secondary school. More critically Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of children, over 3.1 crore, in the 0-6 age cohort which means education and job creation will be the primary challenges.
The Socio-Economic Census 2011 Reveals:
- Barely 3 of 100 pay professional tax or income tax.
- Seven of ten have a household income of around Rs 5,000.
- 22 percent own two wheelers, two out of ten own four wheelers.
- 8.5 percent admit to having a refrigerator at home.
Income levels determine consumption and demand. And the demand for electricity is a telling factoid about Uttar Pradesh. Per capita consumption of power at 502 kilowatt-hours is half the national average, a third of Odisha and other large states.
The failures are despite the quantity – and claimed quality of – representation. It is no mystery that the big concern is the broken state of education and of law and order. Uttar Pradesh tops the list of infamy for teacher vacancies and for police persons. The state has 7.5 lakh sanctioned posts for teachers in government schools of which 1.5 lakh are vacant. That is one in five posts for teachers are vacant.
Uttar Pradesh has 3.64 lakh sanctioned posts in the police force of which 1.9 lakh are vacant.
This is so when the state has 111 members in the two houses of Parliament, and 503 members in two house of the Legislature – all empowered and obliged to ensure accountability.
Yes, road connectivity has improved and there is the bling factor of the new expressways – particularly in recent years. Yes, the World Bank says there has been progress on human development indicators. The crux of the issue is not how little but how late.
Like in Bihar, politics in Uttar Pradesh is riveted to identity. Governance is less about the rule of law and more about the law of who rules. Identity is the insurance and has ensured the cornering of resources for electoral efficient and enrichment of people like us is rationalized as empowerment and entitlement. The exception is the rule.
A New Design For Governance
The contest in 2017 could have been about a new design for governance. The contest is ostensibly between models of development – between the young Akhilesh Yadav and the BJP. However, the campaign is in default mode. The rhetoric is high on decibel and low on content. The manifestos are replete with promises of freebies, farm loan waivers, doles and more.
The default mode of politics determines the template of governance. It must change, but it has scarcely altered over the years.
The union budget of 2017 mentions some ideas which would be invaluable for Uttar Pradesh.
- The new Antyodaya Mission could be vital for the most backward districts – particularly Shrawasti et al.
- The idea of human resource development for panchayats could revive local governance at the 97,000-plus villages.
- The concept of SWAYAM could deliver teaching – especially given the context of schools without teachers.
But the discourse is about individuals not institutions, promises not policy.
Can Bharat afford to await political enlightenment? Can India progress with a sixth of its people stranded between slogans?
Shankkar Aiyar, political-economy analyst, is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change.
The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.