There is a growing and justifiable discontent and anger amongst Bhojpuri speaking people of western Bihar – especially the educated ones living outside Bihar — with the the ‘Bihari’ identity. This identity which had seen its glorious days has been unjustifiably marred in other parts of India, probably because of large scale economic migration especially by lower classes, brought about by the Lalu misrule of the past few decades.
This can best explain the intense desire amongst the elite section to reinvent their identity from ‘Bihari’ to a ‘Bhojpuri’ one. Bhojpuri has a glorious history as a language and people, though it was never an identity in itself. This desire for a positive identity has taken the form of an aggressive movement. But the battlefield is not Bihar but eastern UP, where a large number of Biharis have migrated to, fleeing the misrule and lack of opportunity in Bihar.
The Bhojpuri speakers in Uttar Pradesh are well ensconsed in the mainstream UP culture and apart from some politically inspired accusations of neglect have had no reason to invent a Bhojpuri identity to fall back on.
But Biharis living in Eastern UP, as well as in other parts of the nation have been fervently trying to ‘break’ eastern UP from the rest of UP — to create a ‘separate’ Bhojpuri identity and even a separate Bhojpuri state called “Purvanchal”.
They say that if your neighbourhood is burning you too will suffer the consequences. That is what is happening in areas of UP adjoining Bihar.
This disgruntled section together with other vested interests, including some elements in UP areas adjoining Haryana have managed to create official divisions within the state on the basis of east and west. However, there have been two more divisions based on regional identities — since not everyone was happy with the rather indiscriminating eastern and western identities. So we now have Central UP comprising the Awadhi speaking areas and Bundelkhand — the areas of southern UP, as well. The ostensible reason for this division has been the creation of economic zones. However, they are being promoted as distinct ethnic identities which they are not, and sometimes even as distinct states (or aspirants as such).
Making use of this new development, Purvanchal —- the Bhojpuri speaking area is being aggressively propagated as an area totally distinct in culture from the rest of UP, to pave way for creating a division in the minds of people.
And no points for guessing who are the players in this — not the Purvanchalis themselves, but the outsiders — Biharis.
In fact, it was no other than Lalu Yadav himself who suggested that the Bhojpuri speaking areas of UP and Bihar should be merged to form a new state.
The seeds of division
Historically and culturally, Uttar Pradesh was never divided into east and west. Rather its geographical and cultural divisions were: the Doab region including upper, middle and lower doab, Rohilkhand, Oudh, Benares and Kumaon Garhwal.
But in modern post independant India, several factors contributed to today’s east-west divide in Uttar Pradesh.:
i. One was the large scale post-partition migration of Punjabis and their culture in the western and central parts.
ii. The main reason however, has been the green revolution that took place in the western parts (and to some extent in the central parts), which created an economic schism.
iii. Large scale migration of Biharis and their culture in the eastern (and to some extent in central) parts. According to some, more than 70% of the population of areas bordering U.P. have migrated into U.P.
Just 25 years ago, there was no concept of eastern and western UP. In a place like Delhi a person from Lucknow/ Allahabad and Garwhal/ Kumaon would gladly meet each other as UPiites or rather Hindustanis, as UPiites are called. The commonalities were important. The sub-regional differences were unimportant and brushed aside. We were all part of the same basic cultural thread. I would say, the situation has not vastly changed, although Uttaranchal has separated, and some people never tire of drawing the line between east and west. But things are changing for the worse.
The latest development has been the forming of economic zones by the government of UP, which are being propagated as ‘deemed’ states by some vested interests in the east and west. It is then the areas that unwittingly (or on purpose) get trapped in the wrong zone that become the worst victims of all this politicking. We all know the cases of the ‘plain’ areas of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar being transferred to the new hill state of Uttaranchal, against the wishes of their people. But these were smaller places of lesser historical or cultural value than that of Allahabad which has emerged as a more serious victim. Not only because of its size and historical importance but also because it has to face the Bihari-Bhojpuri aggression which threatens to kill its identity and culture.
Allahabad has never been a part of the east. It has been the last frontier of the west or a gateway to the north-west, depending on whether you were looking from the west or east. Allahabad has never been an area of Bhojpuri language, culture or ethnicity. Sure, it has had a strong relationship with the region to its east but it has had its own distinct identity as well. Therefore Allahabad has wrongly been included in the official economic zone of eastern UP or Purvanchal.
As stated, these economic zones — as people get used to them, are rather fast becoming a basis for a major re-organisation of all other administrative, cultural and geographical zones, and even new states. They are also being sold as ‘ethnic’ units. Therefore this issue cannot be taken lightly.
Stealing cultural identities and icons
Just how much is the role — direct or indirect, of a section of Bihari chauvinists in this division is not clear. There is now a sizable population of Purvanchalis and Biharis in Allahabad. And many of them enjoy positions of power.
But whether or not this section of Biharis played a substantive role in this wrongful division, they have used this division to launch an aggressive movement to claim/ paint Allahabad as part of the Bhojpuri region and therefore a part of their identity, even though the economic division made no claims to Purvanchal being a Bhojpuri zone.
This aggression has taken the form of a movement, with no obvious leadership. It’s the ordinary educated Bihari, who may be in a position of power who aggressively makes this claim, much to the exasperation of Allahabadis, who don’t quite know how to react to this act of aggression.
This section of educated and politically aware Bihari is quietly spreading misinformation such as that concerning Allahabad in their day to day personal and professional discourses, but sometimes they also use the media and technology to do this. Here are a few examples:
- In an interview with Ashish Rana on T.V., a viewer from Allahabad, who looked like a University student asked him to come to ‘our area’ in the ‘east’, and then specifically mentioned Allahabad and Bihar. He had to be a Bihari for an Allahabadi does not see himself as an easterner.
- How eager and aggressive the Bihari chauvinists are to steal other people’s identities to buck up their own can be judged from the next remark that he made, claiming Ashish to be a fellow Bihari, which Ashish politely denied.
- But the biggest stealing of the identity/ icon happened — which was nothing short of daylight robbery, when the Bihari community in a public function wrongly awarded Amitabh Bachchan, the famous Allahabadi the Bhojpuri icon award. Amitabh, being the gentleman that he is, and facing a sea of Bhojpuri crowd, diplomatically said that he was proud to be born in Uttar Pradesh, and thus indirectly avoided lending credence to the organisers claims that he was Bhojpuri.
Obviously, Amitabh also wouldn’t have wanted to anger the bhojpuri people who form the single largest community in India — language wise, if he wants his and his son’s movies to run profitably. His son is also slated to appear in a Bhojpuri movie.
- A film that came some years ago based on Allahabad showed Allahabadis talking in typical Lalu style — “Ham janta hoon…..” types. Now anyone who is familiar with Allahabad knows how ridiculous this is. So who could have painted a misleading face of Allahabad.
- Similarly a programme on Sab T.V. ridiculing politicians, showed Raja Bhaiyys, a politician from Pratapgarh (near Allahabad) speaking in the same dialect, which was equally inappropriate.
- Sometime ago, in the programme “laughter channel” by the famous Bihari Shekhar Suman, Raju Srivastava, the kanpur/ Allahabad guy referred to himself as “Bihari” and “Bhaiyya”. Was he trying to appease his Bihari boss? Was it Shekhar’s money that was doing the talking? Obviously, Biharis want to hear that sort of thing. Raju Srivastava has used a mixture of Awadhi and Bhojpuri (which is not characteristic of Allahabad) in the same programme. E.g. he uses words like “Bhouji” for “Bhabhi”, and “Tohar” and “Touka” (all Bhojpuri words) while otherwise speaking in Allahabadi. Worse still, he uses the masculine form of address for feminine gender which is typical of Bihari Bhojpuri. E.g. “Mumbai main actor log sadak par ghoomta hai”, (Actors roam about in the streets of Mumbai), whereas an Allahabadi would say it as “Mumbai main actor log sadak par ghoomtay hain”.
Apart from these and other such media campaigns, this aggressive robbing of identity also happens in personal interactions with Biharis, especially with Allahabadis. While for non-Allahabadis this may not be a subject of interest, Allahabadis either politely keep quiet or enter into arguments, which gets our Bihari brethren quite heated up, because he treats it as a life and death issue.
Sample this from a Bihari journalist friend whose arguements in support of his claims on Allahabad range from ridiculous to hilarious:
(i) Punjab/ Haryana/ western UP eats paneer and tandoori roti, Allahabadis/ Lucknowis don’t: It’s clear that he doesn’t know very much about either Allahabad/ lucknow or Punjab/ Haryana/ western UP, but I tried to tell him in vain that both these items came from Punjab with the migrants after the partition and today, they are as popular in Allahabad-Lucknow as they are in Delhi and Meerut.
(ii) Punjab/ Delhi has fruit juice shops, while no one dirnks them in ‘our side’ (‘our’ obviously means Allahabad and Bihar). While I was greatly informed about Bihar, I assured him that Allahabad is chock full of fruit juice shops.
(iii) A year ago, we went to Mathura together, and when we did not find any Tandoori rotis there, he changed his opinion about western UP and changed his diatribes to Delhi/Punjab/Haryana vs UP/Bihar, which is equally misplaced.
(iv) This guy who has lived in Delhi for 10 years and claims to be quite knowledgeable — “having travelled across the length and breadth of the country” accused me of knowing nothing about this country except Delhi. His latest claim was that in Haryana people don’t traditionally wear dhoti kurta in villages. I tried telling him that he was 100% wrong (my Haryanvi friend’s uncle always wore dhoti kurta even while visiting him in Delhi), but he won’t listen. He obviously knew the best.
That he didn’t know anything at all about Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP or Allahabad was amply clear when he was completely shocked to realise that Punjabis don’t originally belong to Delhi, that they came here from western Punjab after the partition (this when he has lived for 10 years in Delhi and he is a journalist). This time he had heard it from a Punjabi. My telling was not good enough, because in his view I did not know much about this world, since I didn’t agree that Allahabad was part of the east.
The ordinary Bihari never fails to speak of eastern and western/Central UP as if they are two separate states — just in order to drive home their point. This prompts Allahabadis to distance themselves from both the Purvanchalis and Biharis. This breaking of people from each other is not a very pleasant thing. And we have only the Biharis to blame for this.
Now having closely observed the entire development over the years on the issue, and as a lover of Allahabad and its culture, as it’s my hometown, I can’t help but be surprised at the need for Biharis to insist a claim on Allahabad (as a Bhojpuri area) — without any geographical, historical or cultural basis.
Here is what my research on the subject, since, says on this matter.
IT IS WRONG TO INCLUDE ALLAHABAD IN PURVANCHAL
When forming new administrative zones, the government should be sensitive to the historical, geographical, cultural, administrative and political aspirations of people.
The Allahabad division, which today includes the Kaushambi, Fatehpur, Pratapgarh and Allahabad districts are not geographically, historically, culturally, administratively or ethnically a part of Purvanchal. When bureaucrats and politicians reorganise regions they should take into account these considerations.
Geographically: Geographically, Allahabad is an extremely important and integral part of the Ganga-Yamuna Doab as it is situated at the confluence of the two rivers. Allahabad is situated in the southern part of Uttar Pradesh. Its land is typical Doabi — very fertile, but not too moist like Purvanchal. This land is very suitable for the production of wheat which is the major crop of the entire Doaba area.
The southern and eastern parts of Allahabad are dry and rocky like its neighbours Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand. On its north and north east is the Awadhi region. And to its west are other areas of lower Doab.
For all the empires that came from the east (including the British) Allahabad has been the gateway to the north-west.
Historically too, Allahabad has always been an integral part of the Doab (which includes the Delhi region). When Aryans first settled down in India, their territory which they named Aryavarta included Prayag/ Kaushambi. Kaushambi was established by the vatsa kingdom of Hastinapur, and when Hastinapur was destroyed by floods, they shifted their capital to Kaushambi. In every forthcoming age, Allahabad‘s fortunes have been locked with this Doabi piece of land. Whether it was the Gupta Dynasty or the Kushan or the local Kannauj dynasty.
When Muslims came Allahabad became part of the various Delhi Sultanates and then rose to prominense once again as an important part of the Doab under the Moghuls. Akbar built a fort here recognising its strategic position in the Doab. Purvanchal’s history on the other hand followed its own course. When the British came they made Allahabad the capital of the North western Province of Agra which it remained for 20 years.
As a distinct region Allahabad‘s history is tied with that of Doab rather than Purvanchal.
Culturally speaking Allahabad has always been the last frontier of the west. It has been an important player in determining the Doabi culture. In today’s U.P. it is a part of central UP and forms an unbreakable cultural triangle together with Kanpur and Lucknow. Bhojpuri people themselves never considered Allahabad a part of the east. None of the Bhojpuri movies ever go beyond Kashi in their depiction.
Eventhough Purvanchal, like Allahabad is part of the mainstream UP culture, and Bhojpuri is a great culture in itself, but if the state is being divided on regional basis, then Allahabad most certainly belongs in central UP.
Thus if we look at it from a regional point of view, there are also important differences between the cultures of Allahabad and Purvanchal. E.g. the staple food of Allahabad is wheat, while rice is an important secondary food, like the rest of UP. However, in Purvanchal rice is the staple food. Likewise, while the language of Allahabad is Awadhi, which is a central UP language, Purvanchal’s language is Bhojpuri. Important festivals of Purvanchal like the Chath are not celebrated in Allahabad. On the contrary, Allahabad is completely connected with the central UP, culturally.
Administratively/ Politically, Allahabad division has always been constituted of the lower doab districts of Etawah, Farrukhabad, Kanpur, Fatehpur and Allahabad. While the reorganisation of districts is not unusual, it has to be a very special reason to organise the entire division. Today most of the above districts have been truncated from Allahabad division and have been included in western or central UP as part of Agra and newly created Kanpur divisions. There are some insidious factors behind play in this huge reorganisation of divisions — and one of them is the aggressive Bhojpuri politics.
The western part of the Allahabad district — which is the main/ doabi part and where the city is situated, was truncated into two parts and a new district of Kaushambi was created out of it. Kaushambi is an extremely small and unnecessary district whose only purpose seems to be to make the remaining Allahabad division which now had just one district, look plausible. For the same reason, Pratapgarh and Unnao districts of the Lucknow division were added to the Allahabad and Kanpur divisions respectively.
Allahabad is connected to its west for most other administrative/ political purposes. E.g. the Allahabad-Jhansi division is a separate constituency of the legislative council of UP. Many important administrative headquarters of the districts of lower Doab are still in Allahabad. These inlcude agriculture deptt, horticulture deptt., animal husbandry, Co-operative deptt., education deptt., industry, minor irrigation etc. Likewise the police zone of Allahabad includes the Jhansi and Chirtrakoot ranges. Again, several important administrative seats of Allahabad are head quartered in other areas of lower Doab like Etawah, e.g. the handicraft deptt and sericulture deptt of the entire Doab region. Allahabad is also the headquarters of the North-Central railway, which basically covers the Doab region. To include Allahabad with the Purvanchal zone just for economic reasons will create additional expenditure and confusion.
Ethnically, Allahabadis are not known by the traditional ‘Purabia’ or ‘Bhaiyya’ or ‘Bhojpuri’ identities.
Conclusion: About 20 years ago, when the concept of dividing UP into east/ west first started and there were just two zones, it was not a problem. But now when the regions are being divided on the basis of ethnicity/ cultural affiliation, then it would be unethical to put people in a mismatching region.
Being thrown unwillingly into the wrong region creates unnecessary problems for the people of that place. Thus, in Delhi university and other places, people of Purvanchal often create a closed group. Allahabadis don’t feel themselves to be a part of this group. Purvanchal is the most populated region of the entire country. As such, the identity and culture of Allahabad is threatened to be lost in this Bhojpuri deluge. The youth of Allahabad today is already confused about his identity.
A possible option: Allahabad is a large district areawise. However the main part of the district is the western Doabi part which is rather small. It was a big mistake to carve out a tiny district of Kaushambi from this western part.
If the district needs to be divided, Kaushambi should be merged back into it and the large eastern areas of the district can be made into another district, if the people of the area so wish, and the new district can be made part of Purvanchal, while the main Allahabad district can become part of Central UP.
Other areas that don’t belong in Purvanchal
Like Allahabad there are other areas e.g. Bahraich, Gonda, Faizabad, Sultanpur that are purely Awadhi speaking and don’t belong in Purvanchal.
Similarly, Mirzapur and Sonebhadra districts are parts of Baghelkhand rather than Purvanchal. They should be merged with Bundelkhand of which they were earlier a part.
There is a second line of districts which are only partly Bhojpuri speaking, i.e. parts of them are Awadhi speaking and part Bhojpuri. They include Basti, Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Varanasi, and probably Deoria, but which nonetheless can be included in Purvanchal. But their Awadhi roots should not be allowed to be deluged under Bhojpuri.
The only purely Bhojpuri districts in U.P. are Deoria, Padrauna, Ballia and Ghazipur. But even they are closely connected with the mainstream UP culture. That is, it is wrong to think of them as forming a different cultural zone from the rest of UP.
The fact is that the Purvanchal area as of today is too big. Just like the western U.P. part. A lot of the areas included in western U.P. belong more rightly in Central Uttar Pradesh. But the area and population of the present Purvanchal is just too large. There is a strong case to cut down this area, while Central UP (which can be renamed Awadh) should be the larges portion of the zones of UP.
A word of advice for Bihari activists
Bihar has plentiful of natural bounties and talented human resources. I was very impressed when I recently visited Bihar for the first time in my life. It has beautiful unspoiled landscapes, beautiful people and a lot of natural resources. Plus the cities like Patna are very well developed. Bihar has a rich historical past and a rich culture. It all needs to be explored.
The elites of western Bihar if they need to remove the unjustified stigma from Bihar, should not attempt to steal other’s identities or to disrupt the house of others in order to find support for their own identity.
The present adverse conditions has created a sense of unity amongst Biharis. This unity should be used constructively, not destructively. The present attitude of the Biharis is to use this collective power as a force to forcibly steal the identity and culture of others to prop up their own. This is a typical Bihari Goonda behaviour and one of the negative features of Bihar.
I hope this is taken as constructive criticism. The Bihari leaders, particularly the youth should use this unity in adversity to build a new Bihar through hard work. To find out the source and culprits of those who malign Bihar and its name, and then expose them. But in all this they should show a sense of responsibility, maturity and courage. They should take the long and hard way that is more honourable, than the easy short-cut, but dubious way.
In this they will have the full support and help of their neighbours. Instead of trying to break others from the national mainstream they should join them in the mainstream.