Tens of thousands of young people from Uttar Pradesh vote with their feet, seeking jobs in other states.
In India, during the poll season, there is no political party or candidate who does not promise “development”. Even those with serious criminal records do. The word evokes the same sentiments as all-purpose cleansing milk which washes away dirt, grime, stale makeup. Merely uttering the word “development” is enough to wash away past sins, and endow one with luminosity.
The polls are over; the soaring rhetoric of “development” continues. Hopes are raised. Promises repeated.
There is nothing wrong with all this development talk except that the word means different things to different people. You can spin it whichever way you wish, and still come out smelling of roses. That is development’s dark secret.
Which brings me to Uttar Pradesh and its new chief minister, the shaven, 40-something Adityanath Yogi (born Ajay Bisht), five-times member of Parliament and the head priest of the Gorakhpur Mutt.
His claim to fame, however, rests in large measure on his militant espousal of unabashed, hardline Hindutva, inflammatory statements about minorities, and pending criminal cases, including for rioting and attempt to murder.
Many are outraged that such a man is now firmly on the saddle of India’s most politically important state. Adityanath’s supporters say their hero has the mandate, and must be given a chance.
“I am confident that the state will march on the path of development”, the new chief minister said in his first media interaction after being named for the top job.
The problem is that though everyone knows the Yogi’s views on Hindu Rashtra, cow slaughter and suchlike, it is unclear which development model he will follow and how it melds with strident Hindutva.
Can Mr Modi and the monk deliver their promises to Uttar Pradesh?
The answer matters. Uttar Pradesh has a population of over 200 million people, similar to Brazil, and more than that of France and Germany put together. The state is India’s political steering wheel; it has produced eight of the country’s 15 Prime Ministers.
But despite its demographic weight and political clout, the people of Uttar Pradesh have not got their political representatives to deliver development. Successive governments of varying political hues have failed the state.
Arguably, there has been some progress. But too little, and too scattered. Uttar Pradesh contributes merely eight per cent to India’s gross domestic product (GDP).
One key reason why Uttar Pradesh is in such a sorry mess is because of the state of its human development. It trails in health and education — two critical markers. The state has India’s second-highest maternal mortality; half of its child population are stunted. One in two children in the state does not get his/her full quota of life-saving vaccines and it has the country’s worst infant mortality rate (64 deaths per 1,000 live births).
These figures are not figments of the imagination of NGOs who wish Uttar Pradesh and its new government ill, but culled from the latest National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4).
For those promising to turn Uttar Pradesh on a buoyant growth trajectory, the other most worrying indicator relates to education. Learning outcomes are abysmal and there is high absenteeism in the state. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the largest annual household survey in rural India that focuses on the status of children’s schooling and basic learning, notes that at the all-India level, enrolment has increased for all age groups between 2014 and 2016. However, in some states, the fraction of out-of-school children (ages 6-14) has increased during this period. Uttar Pradesh figures in this dubious list. Other states in the same boat are Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Another disturbing indicator — Uttar Pradesh also figures in the list of states where the proportion of girls (age group 11-14) out of school remains greater than eight per cent. Tens of thousands of young people from Uttar Pradesh vote with their feet, seeking jobs in other states.
Which brings us back to the original issue. The new chief minister is not responsible for these dismal figures, but he is responsible for what happens from now on in Uttar Pradesh, how he chooses to define development, and what he prioritises.
These issues are hugely relevant because along with Bihar, Uttar Pradesh will have India’s youngest population over the next 10 years. What hope for these young people?
Unless the new chief minister explicitly frames “development” to include human development, the vast majority of people in the state will continue to languish in pools of misery even amid pockets of economic growth.
Adityanath’s first acts as chief minister have been to ask for a declaration of assets from state government ministers and officials, to put an end to the use of red beacons on government vehicles, and warn bureaucrats of stringent penal action if they fail to crackdown on cow slaughter, crimes against women and communal flareups.
He once told a reporter that he does not believe in casteism but accepts caste as an organising principle of society. How do people at the bottom of such a pecking order rise without disrupting it?
Adityanath’s recent statements on development do not provide enough clues about which model of development he is proposing. Is it the Gujarat model, the Madhya Pradesh model, the Rajasthan model, the Maharashtra model or the Haryana model? All these are states ruled by his party, but their records are not similar, nor do they meet universal parameters of development. Take Madhya Pradesh, for example.
As a recent background brief by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy points out, in spite massive economic growth, Madhya Pradesh was classified as “off-track” in most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), along with a wide divergence between the growth and human development indicators across different districts within the state.
What Adityanath Yogi will do or not do remains to be seen. But the people of Uttar Pradesh have an urgent task ahead. They must demand that those who promise development spell out exactly what they mean by the word, what their development priorities are, and what they see as the likely trade-offs in executing their vision.