Now, Let UP Show the Day

Narendra Modi should make Uttar Pradesh the engine of India’s growth
The last bastion of caste politics has come around and voted for economic development.“ Thus did Arvind Panagariya, head of Niti Aayog, sum up Narendra Modi’s swe Aayog, sum up Narendra Modi’s sweeping victory in the Uttar Pradesh election. A state that historically has pulled India down can become a growth locomotive.There is an old joke about Muhammad Ali Jinnah demanding Kashmir, and Jawaharlal Nehru replying that he could have Kashmir provided he also took UP and Bihar. UP has almost 220 million people, or 16% of India’s population. But only 12% of India’s GDP . Its per-capita income and economic growth have always been below the national average.

Rankings Go South

It was among the richer states in percapita income at Independence. But now it is 31st. Its poverty ratio is almost 30% against the national average of 21.9%. It comes 29th among states in literacy. Its infant mortality rate of 50 per-thousand births is the fourth worst. Along with Bihar, it has the highest fertility rate. It is India’s crime capital with by far the largest number of serious reported offences. But official data are gross underestimates since the police will not register cases unless bribed.

So, India biggest state has been a huge drag on the rest of India. Yet, if UP turns around, its sheer mass will produce an overall surge in India. If such a big chunk of India moves from sluggard to galloper, the world will sit up and take notice. A fast-accelerating UP can, by itself, raise India’s GDP growth by a full 1%.

The state did not prosper under BJP rule in the 1990s. The focus of the party at that time was on the Babri Masjid and identity politics, not development. BJP leaders of the 1990s had no great reputation for honesty or good governance. Modi needs to bring in a new set of UP leaders that shift emphatically from identity politics to development and good governance. That will help accelerate UP’s growth rate to double digits.

Under Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, there was no more development emphasis than under the BJP of the 1990s. Even so, the state’s GDP began to accelerate as part of the overall economic boom in the 2000s.When economic liberalisation started in the 1990s, the first beneficiaries were the advanced states, which had the best infrastructure and industrial base. But in the 2000s, the backward states, derisively called Bimarou (acronym for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and UP) began catching up with huge surges.

The greatest acceleration took place in states where a new generation of chief ministers began to see economic development, as distinct from freebies and vote-bank politics, as the key to getting re-elected. Earlier, anti-incumbency was rife and chief ministers were rarely re-elected.

But Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh got reelected repeatedly when they focused on economic development that translated into rapid GDP growth. They , too, offered freebies. But these were not the focus of their strategy .

UP did not follow a similar path.Under Mayawati and Akhilesh, its growth rate improved compared with the 1990s. But it was nowhere near the 10%-plus growth that Nitish achi eved in Bihar. In Mayawati’s five yea rs starting 2005, the state’s GDP gro wth averaged 6.87%. It decelerated to 5.9% under Akhilesh.

Temples of Modern UP

Now, Akhilesh’s term was marked by two major droughts and overall slow ing down in India. So we can say his performance was almost the same as Mayawati’s. His father was really in charge for the first half of his term.

And he could switch toward economic development -trying to mimic Niti sh-only in the second half. This had a positive impact, but not enough.

Modi must appoint a chief minis ter who gives economic development top priority . This means getting away from politicians with strong caste and religious credentials, like Yogi Adityanand and Uma Bharati.

Uma Bharati, who gained fame in the Babri Masjid movement, was made chief minister of Madhya Pradesh af ter the BJP won in 2003. But she was then replaced by Chouhan in an int ernal coup. That turned out to be a lu cky break, since Chouhan emphasi sed development and eventually made Madhya Pradesh the fastest-growing state in 2014.

Some analysts say Modi stands for development, while the Congress stood for freebies. The contrast can be misleading. Modi believes in welfare capitalism, not laissez-faire. His loan waiver to small farmers in UP signals a populism in keeping with his party’s Antodaya philosophy . But unlike the Congress, he sees that fast growth is the best way of helping the poor. Getting electricity and all-weather roads to every village creates new opportunities and catalyses lakhs of small enterprises.

Modi will continue with and expand welfare schemes. But unlike the Congress, he emphasises the need to provide not just doles but opportunities to the poor through fast development. Successful non-BJP chief ministers like Nitish have done the same.If Modi can repeat this formula in Uttar Pradesh, that can transform not only the state but India.

The writer is the author of `From Narasimha Rao to Narendra Modi’, Times Books

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