A child born in Uttar Pradesh is ten times more likely to die in her first year than a child born in Kerala. As far as the infant mortality rate is concerned, the two states are as far apart as the United States and South Sudan. The life expectancy in Uttar Pradesh is also a good ten years lower than that in Kerala.
Yet, in October last year, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath, went to Kerala and said that the state must take lessons from Uttar Pradesh on providing healthcare and running hospitals. The statement was particularly baffling considering that just a few months earlier 30 children had died in a government hospital in Gorakhpur due to the administration’s failure to maintain a supply of oxygen.
As absurd as Adityanath’s brazenness seems, it has a clear political context. While India’s northern states are lagging far behind in terms of development parameters, they enjoy much more political power, not only because of their access to Hindi, but also because of their larger populations. For long, the Indian north and south have been on divergent paths. The south is developing at a faster rate, and the north is seeing much faster population growth. These trends, if they continue, are likely to worsen the political imbalance between the two regions. An example of this is the recent controversy over the fifteenth Finance Commission’s recommendations. By carrying out population control, southern states have accrued an advantage in terms of per capita allocation of central funds, which these recommendations threaten to take away. With their prominent history of subnationalism, the southern states’ anxiety over their presence in the Indian union is likely to grow worse.