Until very recently, I used to teach a course called Contemporary India. The program in which I used to teach this course is suspended temporarily, for it was designed for American students who would spend a semester studying in India.
One of my favorite classes in that course was about India’s demographics. It was one of my favorite classes because I got to show three slides in it. These slides were nothing but screen-grabs from an excellent feature that the Economist magazine had published a while back. Note that the content requires Flash, and it therefore probably will not work in our modern browsers. But the slides I speak of are presented below.
The first of these shows each state in India mapped to the country that is closest to it in terms of economic output:
The second shows each state as mapped to the country that is closest to it in terms of economic output per capita:
And finally, we have the third chart: each state in India being represented as a country that is closest to it in terms of population:
Each chart is worth more than a few minutes of your time. Note how Maharashtra is like Singapore, Sri Lanka and Mexico respectively, for example, when you make comparisons in terms of economic output, economic output per capita and population respectively.
My favorite thing to point out, especially to my American students, used to be how all of Canada’s population could fit inside Kerala. India is truly a mind boggling country!
But, Uttar Pradesh. That is what we’re going to talk about today. This is a mind boggling country (not a typo. It really is a country. If it were a country, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. Yes, really).
It has, as this article points out, about 10 percent of India’s districts. One out of every seven Lok Sabha MP’s comes from this state. One out of every six Indian is from the state of Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, but he is responsible for the same number of people as Imran Khan or Jair Bolsonaro. It, to put it mildly, is a truly large state.
And the article that I linked to in the paragraph above makes a point that is worth thinking about: is it too big?
Shekhar Gupta recommends carving up the state into five separate states, and before you scoff at the idea, consider the facts once again: should one chief minister be responsible for the governance of the fifth most populous country in the world?
And the problem isn’t just about population, it is also about national level politics. Or rather, about a problem that nobody wants to think about with any level of urgency.
Here’s the problem: how many people should a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha represent? Ideally, it ought to be India’s population divided by the number of elected representatives in the Lok Sabha. But obviously, in a country of India’s size and complexity, that isn’t always possible.
We may desire “equality” of constituencies, but economic development and demographic patterns do not develop uniformly across the country. Some states have achieved zero population growth while others still have very high fertility rates. This pattern too has a north-south dimension. It is as if the economic centre of gravity is shifting south and the political centre of gravity is shifting north.
Here is what he means by that: in the year 1976, we passed a law that effectively froze the number of seats in India’s Lok Sabha, per state. That number was frozen on the basis of the 1971 census. And from 1976 until the year 2000, we decided to not do anything about it.
And then, in the year 2000, we made the problem worse. Here’s Ajit Ranade again:
In 2000, another amendment postponed the day of reckoning to 2026. Thus, only after 2026 will we consider changing the number of seats in Parliament. Till then, everything is frozen as per the 1971 census. Remember, in 1971, India’s population was 548 million, and by 2031, the first census after 2026, it may well be close to 1.4 billion. The great apprehension is that redrawing boundaries and distributing the existing 550 MPs might mean that the south will lose a lot of seats to the north. Even if more members are added to the Lok Sabha, that incremental gain will mostly go to the northern states.https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/7unVzUcfBJxbHHaiRpenmK/India-should-begin-discussing-the-delimitation-question.html
It is not just the fact that Uttar Pradesh is too big from an administrative viewpoint, and that it contains too many people for it to be administered as one state in a country. It is not just the fact that it is far too important a state in the political calculus of India.
It is the fact that it is about to get a lot bigger, a lot more complex, and a whole lot more important in about five years from now. Why do I say that, you ask? Well, for all of the reasons above, but also for the chart below:
Here’s Shekhar Gupta, from the article I referred to earlier:
Twenty crore people, divided over 75 districts spread over 2,43,000 sq km, is too much to govern for one government, especially when run entirely by one individual, which is the norm in our states now. Similarly, 80 seats in the Lok Sabha is too much power for one state in a federal republic. It is more than Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka put together. It is politically distortionary. Especially when UP’s politics is so internally divisive based on caste and religion that the incentive for improving social indicators is poor.https://theprint.in/national-interest/uttar-pradesh-is-indias-broken-heartland-break-it-into-4-or-5-states/458552/
When you think about that excerpt, and think about the point Ajit Ranade makes in his article two years ago, you realize that we need to start talking – soon, and a lot – about what is to be done about Uttar Pradesh.
I would love to read more about this. If any of you reading this have reading material to share, I would be very grateful indeed. Thank you.