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Is Mayawati's UP division ploy a sign of desperation?

Last updated on: November 16, 2011 19:02 IST

So far it is being assumed that the "divide UP" slogan will work in favour of Mayawati. But there are others who feel that it may backfire, and hurt the pride of the people of UP, says Neerja Chowdhury.

When the Allahabad high court's verdict came on Tuesday afternoon, directing Mayawati to issue a notification within the next 24 hours to hold the urban local body elections, which she had sought to postpone, it came as a setback for the UP chief minister.

But Mayawati moved with dispatch and a couple of hours later her cabinet had cleared the plan to divide the state into four provinces -- Pashchim Pradesh, Avadh Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal.

Her "divide UP" decision was meant to overtake other issues, calculated to alter the poll discourse in the state. Only two days ago, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had registered the presence of the Congress in the battle for UP with an aggressive kickoff of his party's campaign in Phulpur, giving a call to people to bring about a change and herald true development. Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav's `yatra' through the state is also being well received.

The Bahujan Samaj Party chief's divide-UP decision marked the hotting up of the poll battle in Uttar Pradesh, even before the elections to the state assembly have been notified.

The BSP supremo may realise that her party is not likely to do well in the urban local bodies in cities and semi urban areas, which were supposed to be held by this month. She had tried to defer them till after the assembly polls, knowing that their outcome could create an adverse climate against her in the forthcoming state elections due early next year.

Mayawati is reportedly working round the clock, spending 10 hours a day on tightening her organisation and mobilisation, conferencing daily with her district party presidents, zonal coordinators and constituency candidates to counter the unhappiness that has set in with her government.

She is trying to regain the support of the Brahmin community whose backing had ensured a majority for the BSP in 2007. But the Brahmins and upper castes have progressively become disenchanted with her regime, though they have not yet made up their minds on who they would support.

That is why she virtually kicked off her poll campaign by holding a huge conclave of Brahmins in Lucknow last weekend, where she had publicly outlined how she had rewarded Brahmin leaders who had been loyal to the BSP. She has again given a large number of tickets to Brahmin candidates.

To many, the division of the state does not make sense, seen in political terms -- that Mayawati who rules the country's largest state of 200 million, which in sheer size is the fifth largest country in the world, should want to govern a state only one-fourth its size. Even if her party were to come to power in all the four states that make up UP today, she would, after all, be able to rule only in one.

But then the explanation for Mayawati's action may lie elsewhere. She is fighting with her back to the wall, to save her chief ministership. The BSP has lost ground since 2007 -- and some believe that there may well be an undercurrent building up against her government, though her core vote support of Dalits remains intact -- and she may have played the "divide-the-state" card to compensate for at least the 4-5 percent loss of popular support that may occur this time. She calculates that the demand for four smaller states could find resonance amongst some people in all the four regions of the state.

She may also calculate that this is a demand that is not going to go through easily, though she will try and push through a resolution to this effect in the UP assembly where she commands a majority and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal is committed to the formation of a Harit Pradesh and has welcomed the move.

There are however many of her MLAs who are disgruntled today, for they know that they are not getting tickets again, and they may not play ball with her. That may be one reason why Mulayam Singh Yadav is threatening to bring a no confidence motion against her in the winter session of the assembly. And why the rumours abound that she may dissolve the state assembly soon.

Her political rivals see her latest move as an "act of desperation" to get the better of them. The Samajwadi Party has opposed the state's division and the BJP is ambivalent about it, though the NDA had supported the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, and more recently the BJP has lent its backing to the formation of a separate Telangana.

The Congress, though in principle for smaller states, will find it very difficult to accept the proposition, which will open a Pandora's Box nationally. As it is, the party is facing a massive agitation for a separate state in Telangana, and there are similar demands in Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, and some other parts of the country. For the moment, the ruling party is talking about setting up a second reorganisation commission as the way to get around the problem.

There are pros and cons of dividing UP into several parts. There are the usual arguments of governance being easier in smaller units, with the seat of power -- and courts -- supposedly closer to the people, though that has not necessarily worked out successfully in the smaller states.

There is also the argument about development needs being different in the various regions. For instance, the more developed western part of UP, which supposedly provides 70 percent of the state's revenue, is wealthy but needs industry, whereas the needs of the resource- rich but water-starved Bundelkhand are very different.

On the other hand, and that is the flip side of the argument, many believe that it is the large state of UP, as heartland India, which has held the country together. Breaking it may weaken the country's core. Dividing it may also further encourage the rise of smaller regional parties and further fracture the country's polity.

So far it is being assumed that the "divide UP" slogan will work in favour of Mayawati. But there are others who feel that it may backfire, and hurt the pride of the people of UP. If this happens, it might most affect the upper castes, being wooed by Mayawati -- and for that matter by the Congress and the BJP. After all, UP has not only provided the country prime ministers, but influenced the throne in Delhi -- a clout it may be loath to lose.

Neerja Chowdhury