"Heartland": Uttar Pradesh in India’s Body Politic
WITH a population of 166 million, if Uttar Pradesh were to secede from India and declare itself as a ‘Republic’ it would be the sixth-largest nation in the world. A provoking thought indeed. But surely it is neither its geographical size nor its population density that makes the state the subject of three of the ten volumes in the ongoing Sage Series in Modern Indian History.
In the present volume, the author who teaches in the South Asian Studies Programme of the National University at Singapore reviews the state’s construction of a self-identity as the political heartland of the country in the late colonial and postcolonial period.
The meticulously researched book maps these multiple ‘heartland’ constructions and presents five distinct—though sometimes overlapping— ‘constructions’ that have emerged over the last 120 years. The first construction in the 1870s saw UP as a model province in Pax Britaniica. This construction of UP as the colonial "bastion" was challenged by the emerging professional elite who saw it as the ‘nationalist heartland’, construction that crystallised during the Home Rule and Khilafat campaigns.
A slightly overlapping construction is of a Hindu heartland during which Congress in the 1930s and 1940s fashioned a public discourse on religious imagery. The fallout of this was the emergence of the Muslim League and UP as a ‘Muslim heartland’, a concept completely demolished by the Partition in 1947.
Congress’ continuous bid to project UP as the ‘heartland’ of the emerging nation was based on its claim of mobilising the most powerful anti-colonial mass campaigns. This new post-colonial identity was not solely based on Nehru’s towering presence on the all-India stage, or buttressed by a solid bloc of 85 MPs that UP sent to the 524-strong national Parliament.
In the long run, the author argues, the state drew its vitality as the political heartland from post –Independence polices designed to win the electoral support of low-caste votes and substantial Muslims community now anxious to join the ‘mainstream.’
The startling details of these early years that saw the systematic dismantling of the Muslim heartland – are truly shocking. Be it the pressure to dissolve the Muslim League, rejection of separate electorates, and erosion of the landed Muslim elite through the new zamindari laws or the aggressive promotion of Hindi at the cost of Urdu.
Simultaneously, the state also staked its claim to be the "cultural heartland" of the country by being in the forefront of the Nagari movement to enthrone Hindi as a national language. During this critical phase one can decipher the contours of the Hindutva movement that was to take centrestage in the 1980s and 1990s and was to have Ayodhya as its epicentre.
For instance, addressing the annual session of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan on December 3, 1947 during the peak of the Nagari campaign, the then President of the Indian National Congress, Purushottam Das Tandon declared: "If you want to become national (rashtriya) you have to forsake all attraction (moh) to other useless ideas and groups and stand under the banner of one nation, one language, one script, one culture".
The comprehensive account of the exercise of renaming of the state once again illustrates how seriously and somewhat pompously the post-Independence political leadership in the state considered itself the heartland of the newly independent country. Since 1902, the province had been known as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; which in 1937 was shortened to United Province or UP. Within days of Independence, the UP Legislature started debating a "suitable name".
Some 20 names emerged. As there was no consensus, Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant did not press the matter further. In October 1949, the matter could not be postponed further as drafting of the new Constitution was nearing completion and had to include the names of the provinces of the union.
Once again consensus could not be arrived at during a Cabinet meeting. Finally the matter was placed before the Provincial Congress Committee that met at Banaras in November 1949. In a two-hour long debate, an overwhelming majority of 106 members supported the motion in favour or ‘Aryavarta’. The other name that received 22 votes was ‘Hind’. Prominent Congress figures present at the meeting included P.D. Tandon, G.B. Pant, Sampurnanand, Charan Singh, and Govind Sahai.
Armed with this verdict, Pant conveyed the decision to the Constituent Assembly that shot it down after heated discussions taking no notice of the fact that it enjoyed the support of the UP cabinet and UPCC.
A member from CP-Berar, R.K. Sidhwa feared that United Provinces was anxious to monopolise the name of India. He pointed that names of that kind "signified not merely UP but the whole of India". He bluntly charged UP of looking upon itself as the "super-most province of India".
Finally, Law Minister Dr B.R. Ambedkar had to intervene. He moved a Bill empowering the Governor-General to alter the names of provinces to the Union. Pant promised to refrain from suggesting such pompous names like Aryavarta or Hindustan. Congress members from UP in the Constituent Assembly were asked to work out a compromise upon the name of "Uttar Pradesh", and the rest, as they say is history!
The book shows that "the centrality of the ‘heartland’ framework as the defining feature of UP’s political culture in the post-colonial period has cost the state heavily in terms of governance and development.
While leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru to V.P. Singh were to dominate national politics for the coming four decades, UP failed to develop a regional identity of its own. Its leaders overwhelmed by carrying the burden of the ‘heartland’ were trapped in their own construction of viewing regional aspirations as parochial or even anti-national.
The failure of this paradigm is manifested in a lack of cohesive political leadership that has resulted in the state failing to deliver and resulting in a fragmented polity in recent years.
The creation of Uttaranchal in 2000 was the first major challenge to the heartland construction. The sharpening demands for Harit Pradesh, Poorvanchal and Bundelkhand promises structures of governance which are more representative and harness people’s creative energies for welfare and development.
Before that can happen the last vestiges of the heartland construction has to be assigned to the dustbin of history.
While the book may be a bit heavy for a casual reader, it is worth a read for any serious student of contemporary history and political science. The comprehensive political chronology, biographical notes of key political figures, glossary, detailed bibliography and index provided at the end are extremely helpful for both the uninitiated and those curious to know more.