Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been claiming that the Uttar Pradesh model has become ‘ideal’ for the rest of the country. Darbari media has already hailed UP as one of the best ‘governed’ states.
As the first phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh ended, things are not that rosy for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they claim. Hence BJP leaders, including the prime minister as well as chief minister, have been making such comments which are aimed at polarisation. Each statement is made in an extremely ‘well planned’ and ‘calculated’ way so that there is a consolidation through polarisation.
BJP’s growth is the story of this calculation and shifting goal posts, developing perceptions and building up narratives. Every powerful leader has a ‘dirty trick department’ which is ‘weaving’ new ‘narratives’ and converting them into ‘perceptions. Politics is not ideology, but perceptions and for that ‘WhatsApp’ forwarded messages comes handy.
In a way, Narendra Modi and BJP have succeeded in bringing knowledge from ‘elite’ class to ‘aam admi’ through Whatsapp. So, there is a ‘whatsappisation’ of knowledge which is extremely dangerous but it is for this the chief minister’s comment may be ‘fascinating’ but for the rest of the world, who knows facts, the chief minister’s statements ignore facts about Kerala and there cannot be any comparison between the two states which even the government’s own ‘NITI Ayog’ have said many times. We will discuss those issues in the coming days. Let us first discuss what the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh said.
Yogi Adityanath released a video statement on social media saying, “I want to say something from my heart today. In the past five years, many wonderful things have happened. However, if you make a mistake, the hard work of these five will be wasted. And this time, it will not take time for Uttar Pradesh to become Kashmir, Bengal or Kerala. Your vote is a blessing on my work for five years, but remember, the vote will also guarantee a fear-free life in your future.”
It is not that Adityanath has spoken like this for the first time. During his campaign in Kerala, he spouted the same rhetoric that Uttar Pradesh’s health system is the best in India and Kerala must learn from it. Kerala people rejected Adithyanath’s politics and ‘sermons’ outright, as did people in West Bengal and elsewhere. He has been a ‘star campaigner’ for his party, but is right now stuck in Uttar Pradesh and unable to campaign elsewhere which reflects his ‘confidence’ level.
BJP leadership deliberately use such tactics which polarise people. They know well to raise an issue which will become a hot discussion point with people in other states will be pick up the issue and counter it so that a ‘controversy’ is created. That is the way they wanted to create ‘sub-nationalism’ where it suits their interest. As Hindus and Muslims join hands in Uttar Pradesh, such politics is bound to happen which can create division among them. Right from Hijab to Kerala, all are deliberate efforts which have paid them in past. During the Gujarat elections, BJP and Narendra Modi had often used ‘Pakistan’, ‘Mian Musharraf’ or confronting the then chief election commissioner Mr Lingdoh deliberately raising fingers at his faith, has been part and parcel of Sangh Parivar’s agenda to win elections at any cost. The language issue, the Hijab controversy too comes handy for them. Kashmir has often been invoked by the Hindutva leaders deliberately to create a sense of ‘insecurity’ among people. All this is used to ‘otherise’ the Muslims and ‘eliminate’ ‘caste differences’ to consolidate them as ‘Hindus’ in this ‘war’ against ‘jehad’.
However, comparison with Pakistan or Bangladesh too is highly unwarranted during the elections as it creates a diplomatic row. But the issue is that Sangh Parivar, and leaders who have emerged from it, don’t understand those things which can put our diplomats too great embarrassment as happened during ‘abki bar Trump Sarkar’ slogan that Narendra Modi raised in the United States against all norms of political decency which suggest one should not involve in electoral processes of other countries as a ‘party’. What will happen if the Americans or Europeans start supporting political parties of their choice here in India?
Similarly, responsible people should not engage in such comparisons among the states for their electoral benefits because all these states are run by the Constitution of India and are part of the Indian Union. Each one of us loves India and definitely will have respect for our state, even if it has not functioned well just because of the failure of the political leadership. I was born in Uttar Pradesh and can say that it is not that bad. It’s a state which not only led during the freedom movement but also gave strength to Baba Saheb Ambedkar. It is the state which has become the best hope for the political success of Ambedkarite polity. It is the state where Dalits and backward classes have gained in political leadership and roots of democracy now deepening. But these are the very facts that the Hindutva forces are unhappy about and want to undo through their ‘nationalists’ agenda.
However, you will not become anti-UP if you accept the real facts that Uttar Pradesh cannot be compared to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or Punjab with respect to developmental indices. All these states and many others have performed fairly well in the health, education and agricultural sectors. The social justice record of Tamil Nadu exceeds all other states in India, let alone Uttar Pradesh. Kerala remains perhaps the best Indian state in terms of health infrastructure and education.
The Kerala and Uttar Pradesh comparison is not being explored for the first time. The most fascinating analysis is actually explained by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in their book Indian Development long back in 1997. The contrast is remarkable and will not really ‘gladden’ the ‘heart’ of those who ‘vouch’ for the ‘thok do model’ of the government. In this extraordinary work, Prof Amartya Sen writes, “Kerala’s achievements in the social fields have been quite remarkable, including an achieved life expectancy of well over 72 years (69 for males and 74 for females by 1991) that compares well with China’s (69 years) and South Korea’s (71 years) achievements, despite the much greater economic advancement of these other countries. At the other end, Uttar Pradesh remains one of the most backward states in India, and had this state of 140 million people been an independent country, it would have been not only one of the largest, but also one of the most socially deprived countries in this world—giving its citizens less than some of the worst-performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. We have to ask why—and to what extent—Kerala has succeeded, and why Uttar Pradesh has failed so badly in precisely those fields.”
I want to explain further what Prof Sen says that if Kerala were a separate country, its life expectancy would be compared to China and South Korea, two highly developed countries. If Uttar Pradesh was a separate nation, its economic performance would be worse than sub-Saharan countries.
One drawback of the Amartya Sen-Jean Dreze work is that it is from the late 1990s and things have now moved ahead and two sectors of Health and Education the things have deteriorated further. After the 1990s things have deteriorated further. With the mushrooming of private schools, the conditions of the government schools have worsened. The health sector crisis is far bigger where the crisis at Primary Health Centre has only escalated with continued neglect of the health sector. The Corona crisis actually provided an opportunity to our health sector but disturbingly the government used the opportunity to privatise the health sector in India. More focus on ‘insurance’ and less on strengthening the existing infrastructure or developing the new PHCs so that to overcome the crisis that the country faced. Despite the fact that Uttar Pradesh claims to have increased the number of medical colleges in every district, all this is in the private sector and health remains the core concern for people as private health services remain out of bounds for even the middle classes.
Southern India has been out of bounds for the BJP, and the only state where it has been able to enter is Karnataka. It failed miserably in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala though the party’s leadership tried to create the same type of narrative as they have been able to do in various north Indian states. In Karnataka too, the party is facing a serious crisis as there is nothing that the party can show as ‘achievement’. In the Southern part of Karnataka, the party seems to be following the UP model of vilifying the minorities but it will ultimately boomerang.
Southern parts of India have progressed more because of the politics of social justice and inclusive India. Kerala and Tamil Nadu today are the best governed states of India and are attracting the foreign investment too. Both the states have shown the power of inclusive development where Christians and Muslims can live in complete harmony with their Hindu counterparts and none feel threatened or challenged. There is no fight on what you eat or what is being cooked by your neighbours. Nobody feels threatened by an Azaan or the ringing bells of churches during the festive times. In fact, most of these states are ideal examples of the idea of an inclusive India. Kerala is the best example of religious diversity in India and how they live in greater harmony. Christianity and Islam came to Kerala much before they could reach Europe. Bengal has been the vanguard of our inclusive culture where a huge number of people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar found their life and employment for generations.
It was good that Kerala Chief Minister Pinyari Vijayan responded it in his tweet:
If UP turns into Kerala as @myogiadityanath fears, it will enjoy the best education, health services, social welfare, living standards and have a harmonious society in which people won’t be murdered in the name of religion and caste. That’s what the people of UP would want.
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) February 10, 2022
In fact, Yogi Adityanath has, on many other occasions as well, spoken about the Uttar Pradesh model but one does not know whether it was the ‘health’ model or ‘thok do’ model that he was speaking about. A lot has been spoken about Uttar Pradesh’s law and order. Right from Unnao to Hathras, Agra and many other incidents victims are just running from pillar to post. As far as the goondas are concerned, it is a clear case of ‘our goonda is better than your goonda’. While nobody will blame Yogi alone for the state of Uttar Pradesh and nobody can rule a state by vilifying one community or where the minorities are openly threatened and considered as unwanted.
Whether mistakenly or deliberately, Yogi’s statement has only created embarrassment for him and his ‘advisers’ and social media ‘doctors’ will be busy countering all those including Professor Amartya Sen, World Bank or anyone else as prejudiced against BJP or Uttar Pradesh but how would they ignore the Health Index brought out by the Niti Ayog and reported in various papers. A report in the Indian Express by Esha Roy on December 28, 2021 says, “Kerala remained the best-performing state in the health indicators for a fourth consecutive time, according to an index released on Monday, which also ranked Uttar Pradesh at the bottom of the rankings although the state also saw the most progress.”
Kerala got a score of 82.2 and UP, 30.57 — a difference of 51.63 points, which was an improvement from a difference of 56.54 points from the previous index.
The survey ranked states on indicators such as neonatal mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, sex ratio at birth, maternal mortality ratio, modern contraception prevalence rate, full immunisation coverage, antenatal care, identification and cure of TB, etc.
In fact, Uttar Pradesh can also learn from the Kerala model of politics. The coalition politics in Kerala is a great example of how coalitions are cemented and can remain intact over a period of time. Uttar Pradesh’s maverick and self-serving politicians have actually undone the social justice agenda as they can make and unmake any coalition on the eve of the elections and hence ‘ideology’ if there is, get side-tracked to ‘opportunity’ offered by the ruling party.
So, not only can Uttar Pradesh learn from Kerala’s welfare model, particularly its health services, but also through the coalition politics as without social coalition there is no possibility of representation of various marginalised and minority communities. Kerala grew because of full participation of minorities in its growth where Uttar Pradesh continued to vilify them resulting in nearly 20% of the state citizens feeling threatened and outside the developmental paradigm. It is not merely the issue of access to welfare policies but also about using the strength of minority institutions and networks to further them in the greater interest of the people. Exclusion of the minorities and marginalised is essential for development of the state.
Nobody suggest that Southern states are flawless but definitely they have performed much better than the north Indian states in the developmental indices because society is learning to behave with the political changes of the time and politics understand need for social justice and inclusion where Uttar Pradesh model of the BJP tried to undo the strength developed through Mandalisation of the politics. BJP’s persistent focus on religion and nationalism was a clever plank to deny the OBCs and Dalits the leadership in Uttar Pradesh. Whether the marginalised of Uttar Pradesh will ensure that the Mandalisation process comes back or not will only be known after the results are out on March 10, yet one thing will remain that Uttar Pradesh will only gain through pursuing Kerala model of inclusion and welfare politics.
*Views expressed are the author’s own.