UP and Bihar are ignoring their biggest problem

4 min readDec 5, 2023

Talk to any male living in Uttar Pradesh (or even the entire North India), and they’ll tell you about how the problem with UP or Bihar has been their bad leadership in the past, and depending on their political affiliations, also tell you how the current leadership is either going to fix everything or destroy everything.

There is also discussion about how the government officials are lazy and corrupt, the judges are slow, and that the mentality of the population needs to change before anything changes.

Why are these discussions flawed?

This focus on individuals misses the whole point about how these states are structured to fail. No messiah is going to come and lift these states out of their current funk. Their sheer size of population brings out the worst in India’s government structure and doesn't let them thrive.

Mind boggling population numbers

To give you some perspective, let’s start with the populations and per capita GDP of these 2 states. According to Wikipedia, Uttar Pradesh’s current population is around 24 crore people, which is 240 million. Bihar’s is over 12 crore or 120 million according to some estimates, but it’s hard to get the exact numbers because the census hasn’t happened in 12 years.

A rough lookup on Wikipedia tells us that if these 2 states were independent countries, UP would be in the top 5 in terms of population and Bihar in top 15. On the other hand, Bihar would be in the bottom 15 in terms of GDP per capita, and UP in the bottom 25. In a nutshell, these two states are so large and so poor, that one could argue that if India is able to find a way to finally trigger growth in these 2 states, India could actually become the superpower it aspires to be.

The problem

I want to spend some time explaining how the government is structured differently in India than countries like the US, and how having larger states is an even bigger problem in India than it would be anywhere else.

The powers of government in India are more centralised than most developed nations.

In the US, towns can levy their own taxes, manage their own police, hire and fire employees to perform day to day management within the town. They can have their own civil servants performing their own job. As a matter of fact, if more than a certain number of people settle in an area, they can incorporate their own town.

In India, most of these are either directly governed by the state, or the budget is provided by the state. Most taxes in India either go to the centre, or to the state government, and then these budgets are allocated to the local municipal corporations. Most of what state government should be doing is done by the central government, what city governments should be doing is done by the state government, and what individual localities should be doing is done by the city government.

This huge chain of command means that development of cities cannot realistically happen unless the centre or the state takes an interest in developing the infra within a city.

Usually, this leads to a situation where every state puts budget into developing their capital city, and then 1–2 other key cities. For example, in MP these cities are Bhopal and Indore, in Maharashtra Mumbai, Nagpur and to a smaller extent Pune, in Jharkhand Ranchi and Jamshedpur, and so on. Other cities get neglected, because the government chain of command can realistically focus on only a few cities at a time.

Now in states that are as large and UP and Bihar which are already lagging behind most of the country in development, this creates an inertia which is difficult to overcome.

This problem extends to the judiciary. Uttar Pradesh has more people in it except for the top 5 countries in the world in terms of population. But it has just 2 benches of high-court — Lucknow and Allahabad. So someone in Meerut wanting to appeal in the high court might have to take a journey of 8–10 hours just to reach the high court. Add to that the huge backlog of cases and the slow pace of our judiciary, and the judicial system takes decades to deliver judgement on cases.

The Solution

The solution is simple — split Uttar Pradesh and Bihar into smaller states. Uttar Pradesh had a proposal a couple of decades ago by Mayawati, probably driven by political considerations instead of concern for the state, which was in the right direction. It was to split UP into 4 states.

By having 4 states, we suddenly quadruple the number of capital cities and the number of chief ministers. Each CM can focus on their smaller state and develop a new capital, which will bring in development, investment, and industry.

Each state will be able to have its own High Court, thus easing the burden on the current high court and making judiciary more efficient. Each state would have its own DGP (Police), thus making law enforcement more focused.

Last but not the least, a smaller state encourages the politics of development and reform, as the people in that state are able to see what exactly is happening. In larger states on the other hand, everything is too abstract, and this encourages politics of identity. Thus the struggle a mixture of class, caste and religion.