Uttar Pradesh. It is a state where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
The rapes, the hangings, the killings, the nomadic appearance of electricity, the impotence of those in power, the presence of fear and the absence of order, the ghoulish levels of prurient perversity… all aggravated by an incredible insolence of those responsible but not accountable.
It is said, chaos is order waiting to be deciphered. In Uttar Pradesh, it would seem, order is chaos redefined. Yes. The level of political ineptitude and bureaucratic incompetence is remarkable. But there is a more fundamental issue for consideration.
Uttar Pradesh is doomed by design, by its size.
Consider the complexity of scale and the challenging calculus. Uttar Pradesh is spread across 240,928 square km. It has a population of 200 million—which places it somewhere between Brazil and Pakistan or nearly twice that of the second most populous Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh is ostensibly administered through 71 districts and 300 sub-blocks. It has 107,452 villages—more than Bihar and Maharashtra put together. Imagine you are the rural development minister and you decide to visit at least 10 per cent—or even 1 per cent—of the villages. Do the math on how many days it would take you to visit even 1,000 villages.
Uttar Pradesh is too big to govern. It is success-proof!
The failure is best illustrated by indicators—of human development and economic growth. Look at the human development indicators. Uttar Pradesh has an Infant Mortality Rate of 53 (deaths per 1,000 births). If Uttar Pradesh was a country, it would be nearly 20 places lower than India (which has an
Infant Mortality Rate of 42) and rank below Sudan, Tajikistan, somewhere along with Laos and worse than many sub-Saharan countries. What about maternal mortality rate—death of the mother during child birth? A shocking 292 mothers lose their lives giving birth—for every one lakh births. As a country, Uttar Pradesh would be ranked worse than Myanmar, Samoa and Honduras on the UN mother and child care rankings. Low literacy, particularly female literacy, has been a huge aggravator enabling persistence of high birth rates and unassisted births—four of 10 births are without medical supervision.
The economic indicators reflect the impact of poor-to-pathetic human development conditions. Uttar Pradesh has a per capita income that is less than half of India’s and is better only than Bihar. Even Odisha has a higher per capita income than Uttar Pradesh. If Uttar Pradesh was a nation, it would rank just above Rwanda and Sierra Leone and below Benin and Bangladesh on the IMF charts for per capita income. It is no surprise that 34 of 71 districts in Uttar Pradesh are registered on the list for backward regions grant fund. Economic growth in the state has trailed the national average in every five-year period since 15 years and a state that has the potential to emerge as a global food basket—given water levels, access to river waters and soil quality—has consistently done poorly than the national average. Low growth and income has visible consequences. A bare four of 10 homes get access to electricity, and nearly six of 10 families depend on kerosene to light their homes. India has roughly 250 million persons living below poverty line and one of five in that group is from Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh though has not lacked political clout or suffered for ballast. Ten of 15 Prime Ministers were from Uttar Pradesh. There has been no lack of political activism either—whether in 1967 when Lohiates chased Congress off the Grand Trunk Road or in recent times when between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, the regional titans kept Congress out of power for two decades. The political clout and rack of influence though has not helped the people of Uttar Pradesh. The reality is harsh and is reflected in a study I did on India’s worst districts—16 of 17 districts which were on the 100 worst districts list in 1960 continued to be on the infamous list in the new millennium.
Uttar Pradesh is shackled to failure by its size, which has helped ferment politics of the worst kind. That Uttar Pradesh has been, is and will be unmanageable in its present form and shape is a no-brainer. The correlation between reach and response, between scale and complexity, and between size and delivery are fairly obvious.
Uttar Pradesh is a live laboratory on how the promise embedded in the theory of demographic dividend can go horribly wrong if unattended. One only has to take a look at the gap between Uttar Pradesh and India across indicators to get a sense of the underperformance, the drag this has been to the overall India Story. The government must review and right-size the political geographies to enable the states to deliver. It must begin with Uttar Pradesh—split it into manageable units, into three states.
This ongoing apocalypse must end.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change