Posted by: Vikram | August 9, 2008

Can Uttar Pradesh catch up with Tamil Nadu ?

In recent times, I have come across a lot blogs, newspaper reports and even academic literature comparing India to other countries, notably China. A lot of these offer explanations for the current status of ‘development’ in India vis a vis other nations. The purpose of this post is not to refute the claim that India lags behind on many fronts but rather to debunk two myths. The first, that India lags behind its peers due to its ‘democratic’ political process, the second that India needs to learn entirely from other nations to fix its human development problems. The basic premise is that the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has to catch up with the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) before the nation of India catches up with anyone else.

How far behind is UP ? : A LOT. The human development index (HDI) is the most complete metric for measuring development out there. TN’s HDI in 2006 was 0.736, ranging from 0.842 in Chennai to 0.656 in Dharmapuri. If we assume that UP’s HDI improved from 2001 at the same rate as TN’s (it most likely did not) then UP’s HDI would stand at 0.538 in 2006. So TN’s least developed district is more developed than the average district in UP. TN’s infant mortality rate in 2005 was 37 with very little difference in urban (34) and rural (39) areas. By contrast, UP’s infant mortality rate was 76, almost double that of TN. Infant mortality is correlated with total fertility rate (TFR), which stands at 1.8 for TN and 3.8 for UP. Not surprisingly literacy (74.2 vs 61.6) , sex-ratio (987 vs a shocking 898 ) and nutrition (20% vs 33% malnourished) elaborate on the aforementioned HDI statistic.

On the economic front, the per capita income in 2006 was Rs. 24,308 for TN vs Rs. 10,637 for UP. TN generates 12,330 MW of power for its 62 million residents and industry versus 8597 MW by UP for its 170 million residents, almost 4 times less than TN per capita. Not surprisingly, 89 % of households in TN have electricity versus 43 % in UP. 58% households have a TV versus 33 % in UP. See shades of India/China here ? But these states follow the same political system. No one party rule, no suppression of media, no life-threatening pollution and no restriction on migration in TN. No riots, no terror attacks, no caste violence unlike UP.

Why ? : Reason no. 1: Politics

Look closely at the figure above. The one to the left is the results of state assembly election results in UP and the one on the right is the same for TN, both for the last 20 yrs. Some points stand out instantly, there are a LOT more parties in UP over this period. The Congress actually peaked in the mid 80’s and is almost dead now. The BJP and the JD peaked in the early 90s and gradually died over the 2 decades. The SP peaked in early 2000s and seems to be on the wane now. One party improves each year, the BSP. As bad as the situation in UP is today, the story of the BSP with a Dalit daughter of a clerk as its leader is remarkable in the dynastic tyranny that is Indian politics. By contrast, TN has a clear 2 party system, with governments changing hands each election! This bears out Manmohan Singh’s observation about the optimality of the 2 party system.

TN’s party system, though dynastic and ‘leader rather than issue’ oriented ensured both political stability and competition. This is not to say that TN doesnt have its share of problems, but it seemed to have a political system capable of handling most issues without the kind of instability seen in UP. Now why UP was so politically volatile is another matter, but in a nutshell it came down to the INC letting down the Dalits. What followed was an epic political caste war played out over many elections, many dead babies and mothers, many uneducated youth, many girl children killed in cold blood and 2 LOST decades of economic progress. One hopes for UP’s sake that this period is over.

Reason no. 2: Society

The caste system works different in TN vis a vis UP. UP has a multitude of castes, one for almost each profession. Even though the Dalits and Brahmins are the two important political castes, caste conflict has fractured UP’s social life. In many villages, the upper castes refuse to let lower castes access water, education and health care. Until the arrival of the BSP, UP’s Dalits werent really empowered. In TN, there were three clear caste divisions Brahmin, OBC and SC. There was all out war against the Brahmins, who were pummeled into political submission by the Periyar’s Dravidian movement. The DMK became popular due to the anti-Hindi imperialism agitations in the 60s, the AIADMK split off in the 70s and TN got its 2 party system. This is not to say that there is no caste discrimination in TN, but it is nowhere near the scale in UP.

The middle-class in UP likes to hide behind Bollywood, Noida and ‘Aryan’ superiority. This is to be contrasted with the TN middle-class who are much more involved in NGOs and public life in general.

One can only hope that with the emergence of the BSP, the spectre of casteism can be wiped of UP and the state can march to progress just like TN.


  1. Great analysis Vikram and an objective one. How refreshing! Most of the time we see people eager to deny reality but here you have tried to see the facts. As I do not know much about this subject cannot add a more intelligent comment.

  2. People just often get the government they want. It is for them to change it individually.

    Partly true, people vote for the government that they are promised. It almost never is, but its for them to make it as close it as possible.

    Right now, me and you are middle class Indians but not average Indians. Indian politics will continue to revolve around, empower and exploit the average Indian until the middle class Indians get rid of their blinkers and hold it accountable.

  3. Excellent analysis, Vikram. This about settles the issue that a factured multi-party or a brute single party mandate, both of which UP has seen, as has India as a whole, can be disastrous for development, among other things.

    Individual states like TN, Gujarat, Punjab, etc which have largely settled into a sort of poltical ‘duopoly’ have performed better than others. Of course the quality of leadership brings in the ‘cutting edge’ dimension, enabling a state to tear away from the pack. Gujarat is a prime example of that.

    At the national level, however, it is going to tak a very long time before such a healthy and immune-to-blackmail-by-a-few arrangement settles down. Given the speed that India needs to catch up with the best in the world, we simply cannot affford to waste that kind of time. Therefore, our model of democracy rquires an urgent overhaul.

    True, Sharmaji. It is hard to look around for other models though. Few countries in the world are as large and diverse as ours. Maybe we need some kind of new democratic system altogether.

  4. Sir,
    As a Tamilian, it should be flattering but it is not.Because we had one man EVR who was singularly responsible for making the oppressed to come out of their shell.Caste ism and untouchability was most oppressive in tamilandu and that is why even during British times, tamilians supported Justice party which stood for self respect for Non/brahmins instead of Gandhi’s Congress because it was dominated by Rajaji and other Brahmin’s.
    I am a Christian but i am proud of my Hindu ancestary which i donot find amongst christians and Muslims of North.For example abdul Kalam is a Muslim but he is a better Tamil scholar than many Tamilians who speak for tamil culture. ADMK supremo jayalalitha is a Brahmin but she arrested kanchi Sakaracharaya who was involved in a Murder but Karunanidhi would not have dared this. So i will also place her as one of the reasons for bridging the gap between oppressive Brahmanism’s and ordinary Tamils.

    The idea here was not to flatter anybody. But the important thing as you observed was ‘the oppressed coming out of their shell’. This never really happened in North India, especially in UP and Bihar, they simply assumed that the INC would represent them. The rise of Mayawati is sort of a Dalit revolution, lets see where UP goes from here.

  5. Good analysis but lacking a few key points, IMHO. Point #1 : TN has a long history of social reform movements and even dalit movements ( much before EVR, in the 19th century with Vallalar, Ayyankali etc. ). The primary focus of all of these movements was empowerment through education. These movements collectively “pushed” the OBCs and Dalits towards more education and in to the middle class.
    #2 : Women were much better educated and empowered. Again a product of the social reform and the dravidian movements.
    #3 : Economic reforms. TN has always been more “capitalisht” than most other states ( except Guj. and Maharashtra maybe ). Aringar Anna spearheaded an economic transformation which has continued to this day, making TN one of the fastest growing state economies in India.
    #4 : Urbanization : #1, #2 & #3 above pushed the bulk of the popoulation to cities and towards an educated, urbanized middle class ( nearly 50% of TN population is urban! ). Urban populations tend to be better educated and more liberal than rural-dominated states I guess.
    #5 : Last but not the least, REGIONAL PRIDE. You can see signs even in remote corners of TN declaring “Long live Tamil” or “Be proud to be Tamil”. Tamils take great pride in being an ancient civilization that needs to “catch up” to the modern world. The role model in TN is a Singapore or Malaysia. I just don’t see this in other states ( no offense ).
    Disclosure : I am a Tamilian.
    Anyways, good analysis. Looking forward for more. BTW, what do you study?

    Het Vivek, thanks for your comment. I agree with most of your points, except the last one. This is because I am mostly talking about the very basics of life here, nutrition, education and health and I dont feel that these depend on regional pride as much as good governance. But regional pride definitely comes into play once you talk of economic and cultural achievement.

  6. BTW, we should also not discount cultural and social differences between UP and TN. You have already mentioned one such difference – the structure of the caste system. There are many other differences. For instance, the land tenure system. The British implemented the Zamindari system in Bengal, Bihar and UP. This system created a class of landlords and a huge class of serfs. However, in the South, the British implemented Raiyatwari system which created a class of sharecroppers and a much smaller class of agricultural laborers ( the Dalits ). Thus, the “OBC” class that you mentioned vis-a-vis TN is nothing but the class of sharecroppers, many of whom, had the economic means to educate their children ( this directly led to the Dravidian movement, IMO ). The Dalits too, started aspiring to be sharecroppers in the late 70s and this led to violent clashes between OBCs and Dalits and a militant Dalit assertion. Neverthless, the Dalits have progressed and the Govt. has distributed land to many Dalit families ( not enough of course but much better than nothing ). Such a land reform program would be unthinkable in UP ( although Dig Vijay Singh tried something similar in MP ).

  7. Fact speak itself – just u ve shown that.

  8. In the real ‘Aryan’ society, caste was based on one’s karma and not on birth (until it got corrupted in later days), why not determine one’s caste based on one’s deeds and not by lineage as it happened in the good ol’ Aryan days.
    Maybe the Indian society can take note.

  9. in tamil nadu obc and sc are not united . there is great missconception

  10. Vikram, that premise makes sense – am interested also in points Vivek AG raised there concerning: Women, Edu, Urbanization.

    Is it possible for you to show

    1) to what extent exposure to English helped this urbanization?

    2) in what ways do ‘regional pride’ manifest in their lives to foster the empowerment of women and sustain an education system that leads to urbanization?

    3) Would you be able to do a similar post on an Eastern State like WB?

    @ VAG, altho we had read that in History, the significance of the Zamindari/ Raiyatwari system became clearer now! And am almost old!! Spent half my life not ‘knowing’ (I mean knew the fact but not what it really meant in perspective). They teach us Hist so badly here! 🙂

    One never gets anything until one grows old and learns to read and think for oneself. That is what I rail and rant against all the time. Our teaching- learning methods are so ineffective still and outmoded in most cases.

  11. I posted an open letter to you.

  12. I always wanted to read this article in your blog but somehow time has won the battle time and again but not this time 🙂
    the very reason to read this article is I am a tamilian and you are comparing it with the biggest state in our India. And most of the points you have mentioned are true.. due to the two party system here, the government is stable and the verdict of the people is always clear.
    But I am just shocked to see the power generation in UP. Even with so much power being generated here, still shortage prevails here.. I don’t know how people are managing there.
    And for all this development the foremost reason I could say is the education as most of the people in TN know the importance of good education.

    Kanagu, definitely as seen by their achievements in various fields, Tamils are the most educated people in India. This seems to be true there across caste and religious lines.

  13. Fantastic Post, very well researched and shows concisely why UP has so much catching up to do.. And yes, I would agree with kanagu’s post that education is the key for development and enpowerment.

  14. Interesting analysis. It would be interesting to see how the relative percentage of “upper castes/classes” vs. the “lower/backward classes” shaped the power structures in these two states and thus impacted the economic power structures. I think it might be insightful to look at the classes/castes of rural farm land holders post independence in both these states and see how that shaped power structures. From what I see in Andhra and Karnataka, the major rural farm land owners were not Brahmins. Is that true in TN?

    The other factor that I think played a significant role is that pointed out by Vivek – the zamindari system and how it played out power structures in rural area. I believe that this Zamindari system was more implemented in the rule of Islamic empires in India. It will be interesting to compare the rates of development that had the zamindari system for a long time vs. those that did not.

  15. In TN, I believe the major landowners were Brahmins who have now moved to the white collar jobs. They have little political importance but significant economic importance.

    In UP, the major landowners were the Thakurs, who have actually been the principal adversaries of the Dalits in UP. Mayawati saw this and realized that Brahmins and Dalits in UP dont really have much to fight about. The Thakurs have been made politically irrelevant by the emergence of the SP and BSP.

  16. […] Obviously this is a not a satisfactory state of affairs. The Indian state is supposed to be a neutral arbiter between caste and religious groups, not a patron of some in return for ‘vote loyalty’. Public offices, far from being an agent of change and development have become commodities to be bartered in return of votes. Unfortunately, things can change only if the demands and aspirations of the low caste groups in UP change. Right now they seem to be content with political power. Only when they start demanding things like better schools, roads and power will the politics change from being one driven by caste to one driven by development and performance. We have seen this happen now in Madhya Pradesh and in Delhi, and the South has been more like this for a while. […]

  17. In my opinion, having a two party system is not a correct idea to encourage democracy. However, I have a similar alternative : which is a two color system for parties.

    Every party should state whether it is a right-wing or a left-wing party before it gets enlisted by the election commission.

    In the end, after the elections, there could only be a left-wing coalition or a right-wing coalition depending on which parties get the majority vote.

    I have written in my blog what criteria should be followed for deciding whether a party is right-wing or left-wing. But broadly, parties dealing with identity should be classified as right-wing, and parties dealing with human rights should be classified as left-wing. Politicians (and political parties) should split up based on which of these two issues is more important.

    Also, about the differences between UP and Tamil Nadu. There is the coastline which makes an enormous difference. Industrialization always happens next to the coastline. Modernity takes much longer to step into interior regions, this is a phenomenon observed throughout the world.

    Yes, the coastline makes a huge difference, in economic terms. But I dont see how that explains UP’s unimpressive HDI numbers.

    Well, the thing is most parties in India are based on some kind of identity politics, but apart from the BJP, Shiv Sena I wouldnt call any of them right wing. Also, left wing parties need not be based on human rights, India’s left parties are certainly not !

  18. I would like the political parties to be redefined on these parameters, each one has to choose whether they are dealing with identity issues or with bread-n-butter issues (termed human rights in my earlier comment). Of course, every party says they are dealing with both and they have a right to think about both.

    But they have to announce earlier to the elections what color they are. This way, there will be a character to Indian politics and not just opportunistic coalitions whose dynamics are decided only after the elections (with the distinct possibility of several members of the parliament being sold out).

    BTW, you’ve got a very cool blog. I will try to follow it from now on.

  19. I am from UP , living in TN and the difference I have seen is…
    Here husband wife both work..most of the times……this makes the family much more prosperous.
    here the no. of school and colleges and engg. colleges is much more than UP.
    Here people save and dont spend unnecessarily on outer appearance.
    Eduaction is given more importance.
    basic infra structure is much better..electricity, roads , traffic sense, even law and order.

    In all the above fields;..govt. facilitates and WORKS.

    Welcome Renu. Yes, your observations seem correct. I think it is also important to find out why goonda raj and other ills took root in UP society.

  20. I agree with most of the reasons pointed to here for economic development. I would like to add few additional reasons for development in TN.

    1. Location – Since it is in the deep south, a lot of the armed forces and other federal projects were moved here to prevent any problems by possible invasions/terrorism issues. This is also the reason why AP gets Sriharikota for rocket launching etc.

    2. Politics – Since India has had coalition govt for a while, TN gets into the coalition with a deal that it usually asks for the ministry of industry. This way, it has a big say in industrial policy which it adjusts for the needs of the state. This is partly the reason for the electricity projects, port enhancement, manufacturing etc. UP gets a big spot but tries to get other ministries and does not take state development into account.

  21. My two cents.

    I am census freak but I also read history books and get to know the history of the people of that region. What they were and what were their achievement. The interpretation of census goes hand and hand.

    Nothing wrong with both the states.

    The Madras or the now Tamil Nadu/Tamil region was not better than UP region now. It far better off for the past several hundred years.

    Try reading these areas to get better understanding.

    States are just boundaries.

    – Education (pre-independence)
    – Madras (not Tamil Nadu), Punjab State formation and reason why they were split by language and ethical basis.

    Tamil and Malabar region had more schools 200 years back.

    Thats history. But…. i also believe. history is written by the winners or the rules 🙂

    Ooo by the way… census are gathered and funded by the government. How much do you trust it!.

  22. Brilliant!
    Very well articulated.

    I have had a fear that the difference in the quality of life in parts of South India and parts of the rest of country are worrying. The fact that so many people in this country are falling of the development bandwagon has to be the single biggest cause for concern for our democracy.


    • Welcome Anand. The difference is troubling indeed. Not only in human and economic development but also citizen’s movements and activism. We have some tough decades ahead.

  23. good analysis

  24. Hi,
    I liked your analysis Vikram, but other than that there are other reasons than the 2 listed by you.
    1) Importance of education. People in TN focus more on education compared to people in UP. This might be due to lack of resources initially and later people got used to that. I have seen young generation doesn’t want to study hard and their parents also not forcing them to do either.
    2) People in TN doesn’t believe in showing their wealth compared to overall north indians not even UP. (I had a saying that in north india neighbours focus on the car they have whereas people in TN focus on which college there kids got admission to)
    3) Respect for Women and their importance to soceity. UP is not giving respect to women they deserve and they’ll lag till they start respecting the other genders.
    4) Tendency to boycott English. People are against English and that is also one of the reason that industries doesn’t want to come here and UPites have to get this tendency to go against English and the industries might start coming here and this might see more uplift of UP.

    The other regions are Law and Order, proximity to political parties and system etc.

    This trend is dusturbing where one state/city is getting more developed than other but no one is to be blamed for that other than the people of that region.

    I have lived in both states and can see the differences and relate to them.

    Thanks once again for righting on this topic

    The trend is disturb

    • Ajay, welcome to this blog. I agree completely with all the points you have made. This is one of the most pressing our country, not only the uneven economic but also the social progress in the country.

  25. good analysis. the political system in india never dares to clash with the caste system. not only in tamilnadu but also in under developed regions like u.p. the facilities provided by the government for certain sections of deprived( i am writing about reservative system.)are not reaching the targeted sections. most of these facilities are enjoyed by urban creamy layer(of the same castes)gournment officers majorly. i am studying in one of the top government engenering colleges of the country. here as to my knowledge 99% of those who were enjoying these facilities are either from state capitals or from the top cities of the country. when i met those people working in our hostel they even don’t know the facilities they eligible for. some of these are drop outs at 9th class. such is the pity of these people. these people are now being exploited not by casteism but by thougtless gournment facilities which they are not able to reach. if this can be handeled effectively there is no need of much waiting for the elimination of inequalities of the states. and even the urban literacy and that of the village. and finally how are you yet treating such apowerfull leader like u.p c.m mayawathi as a dalith her linage may be of the so called dallith principally she is not at all a dallith. when she can pile up such huge amounts how she claim to be a member of a dalith comunity. i can bet my head that none of our leaders claiming from reserved seats are poor or atlest lakhpathies they are no doubt carodpathies living in capitals not caring of there people they want caste only for votes. if they are really caring of these oppressed they should make laws to reach the real oppressed.
    u.p can develop only when it laws can really reach the real needy this can be achived only when there political system is liberated of caste freak politicians. only thefy can make the difference. so it is up to the people to take the decission weather to leave in a state with the lowest h.d.i. nothing can be achived with a caste .

  26. The facts are true. But the trend is disturbibng although TN enjoys the wealth relatively. It is notable that
    – almost all the construction workers are from Bihar
    – All room boys in Chennai hotels are from Northen (Eastern) states
    – Restaurants workers are from nearby Andhra.
    I was pleasingly surprised by the trend that Tamils got better jobs to perform than these.

    Also, It is not true that Tamils always got better deal from Central Govt. The first cabinet minister post was given recently under VP Sing coalition govt, prior to that bulk of the budget allotment went to UP & Bihar.
    One man single handedly responsible for all the good things in TN is Periyar (E.Ve.Ra).


  27. Don’t the latest Pratham studies indicate that Tamil Nadu is the worst performing state among those tracked? Doesn’t seem wise to wish that UP catches up with TN.

  28. Actually I read with interest most of the comments. One of the reasons for TN’s better performance I feel is the low level of language fanaticism. When you go to UP or Bihar you find all signboards only in Hindi. The schools are largely Hindi medium. This should change and they should embrace English language to communicate in business language of the world.

  29. I am also lived in both states, in this i see the trend in UP is following old traditions, it that some are good and many are bad for HDI for UP. Same in TN the old tradition also following but they removed some useless/non-social tradition due to their illiteracy development this makes the TN is good in HDI.Then this HDI makes Economically better state.

  30. One of the main reason for Tamil nadu’s growth and better social development is the female literacy. The mid-day meal scheme was started and fully implemented in Tamilnadu. This had an indirect effect on female literacy, more girls started going to school. Once the female literacy rate went up, the population growth of Tamil nadu. Of the large states, Tamil nadu has better female literacy rate, lower infant mortality. Ofcourse, Tamil nadu is one of most industrialized state in India, even before the economic liberalization

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