Free Press Journal

Bimar to bahaar: Tough road ahead


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With 200 million people or may be more, UP’s population is about 16 per cent of India’s total population. Had it been a separate country, it would rank, globally, fifth largest in population. However, its nominal per capita income in 2015-16 was only Rs. 48,520, against the national average of Rs. 93,293. Its GDP growth rate is under 6 per cent. UP is one of the top five poorest states – the other four are Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand and Manipur – in terms of GDP per capita. According to C Rangarajan Committee report, 39 per cent of UP’s population is poor.

Look at it from any parameter — development, per capita income, growth rate, industry, infrastructure, education, law and order—Uttar Pradesh ranks poorly in comparison with states that have higher GDP growth rate and per capita income. The recent assembly elections in UP gave BJP a landslide victory. Development was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most important promise to UP’s voters, though it was subtly woven around BJP’s core Hindutva ideology. Emboldened by a thumping victory, BJP named Yogi Adiyanath as the state chief minister. Adityanath is a priest-cum-politician, a Hindutva hardliner known for his biases against UP’s biggest minority community.

As a matter of principle, it was BJP’s democratic right to choose a candidate of its choice to head UP. That it chose Yogi Adiyanath was more in line with the staggering majority that it scored by consolidating Hindu vote in its favour. It was also aimed at sending a clear message that if given a choice it would not mind using the electoral advantage to appease its hard-line Hindu base. Not long ago, BJP was described as a ‘party with difference’. The difference, as people have come to realise, is essentially the Hindutva ideology which it has always been committed to since 1951 as Bharatiya Jana Sangh before it became Bharatiya Janata party in 1980.

The real issues before Yogi Adityanath’s government are not romance, road Romeos, dress code, ‘similarities between yoga and namaz’ or slaughterhouses – illegal ones, yes – but law and order, growth, development, roads, bridges, improved infrastructure, education, healthcare and unemployment. If the crime scene is bad, UP’s record in economic growth is not rosier either. It has also performed poorly in implementing reforms that would make doing business in the state easier.The state’s performance in employment generation, industrial growth and farm output has not shown much progress. Sluggishness in agriculture and industry are reflected in high rate of unemployment. Not only female participation in labour force is low but UP is also home to the third most number of households with an average monthly income of less than Rs. 5,000. The state has highest infant mortality rate; nearly half of its children are stunted. Education is in poor state. On human development index (HDI) UP is among the states with lowest HDI.

Once upon a time Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh were called bimar (sick) states of India. While the first three are still poor, the political narrative has certainly changed. But Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, with all its natural resources not only continues to be backward but wallows in a state of underdevelopment and sickness. Poor and reactionary political culture and lack of strong and efficient leadership are believed to be major reasons for UP’s backwardness.

Whether Adityanath’s leadership inspires confidence to ensure development and growth, improve state of education and create jobs is anybody’s guess. A five-time MP from Gorakhpur, he is a popular politician but his popularity comes from his hard line approach towards minorities and conformist approach to women empowerment and their safety. He draws his strength from the Gorakhnath temple trust which he heads. If he was chosen to lead UP because he was a popular leader in BJP’s internal survey, it speaks little for the party that makes all the noise about development, growth, job creation, Make in India, Digital India and Start Up India, while it does not shy away from playing the ‘Hindutva’ card at opportune time.

No nation has progressed with state power of any ideological hue meddling in every sphere of life of its people. More state control leads to lower productivity as was the case with India before the 1991 reforms and liberalisation of economy. Private entrepreneurship, competition and positive business environment have helped India become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world in the last two and half decades.

UP is somewhat similar to the India of pre-1991 liberalisation days – underdeveloped, stuck in low growth, slow pace of industrialisation, dismal in education, research and technology, poor healthcare, and miserable transport infrastructure. Receding state control has helped India move from underdeveloped to developing economy. UP needs similar transformation, though it’s going to be a difficult task, given its size and population as also the fact that it’s still stuck in basic issues of roads, electricity and water.

Yogi Adiyanath has promised to make UP the ‘dreamland’ of Modi’s development model. There is no idea how the CM is going to make the state that ranks low on several important economic and social parameters into a ‘development model’. However, there is a lot for him to do and deliver.

The author is an independent Mumbai-based senior journalist.