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Why India's Heartland Must Embrace Its Own Consciousness

Updated: Jul 10




As the golden hues of dawn break over the historic city of Lucknow, a new era is quietly taking shape. This storied city, renowned for its rich cultural heritage and architectural splendor, is set to become the epicenter of a significant military transformation. The establishment of a theatre command in Lucknow marks a pivotal moment, heralding a future where this region's strategic importance is not only recognized but actively harnessed.


Lucknow, long celebrated for its Awadhi grandeur and refined elegance, now stands on the cusp of a metamorphosis that aligns it with modern India's defense aspirations. This development, however, is more than a mere military upgrade; it is a testament to the broader, often overlooked potential of the Ganga-Yamuna Heartland.


The Untapped Potential of the Ganga-Yamuna Heartland


While the creation of a theatre command underscores Lucknow’s rising prominence, it also casts a spotlight on the broader Ganga-Yamuna Heartland. This region, encompassing the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, is a mosaic of cultural richness, historical significance, and economic promise.


The Ganga-Yamuna Heartland, cradled by two of India's most sacred rivers, is imbued with a consciousness shaped by centuries of civilization. Its cities and towns are repositories of ancient wisdom and modern dynamism. Yet, despite its vast potential, this heartland has often been overshadowed by the rapid growth of other regions.

The core untapped feature of this heartland lies in its strategic geographic position, abundant natural resources, and a youthful, burgeoning population eager for opportunities. Its fertile plains are not only the breadbasket of India but also hold the promise of becoming a powerhouse of industrial and technological advancement.


Now, it seems plausible that the entire Ganga-Yamuna Heartland stands poised to reclaim its rightful place in the narrative of India's progress. It is a region ready to awaken to its own potential, embodying a consciousness that is both deeply rooted and forward-looking. The question is - how?


Lack of Imagination? Lack of Opportunities? Maybe both.


This is a serious question, because for decades, the Indian State has not been able to develop or recognise the self-conscious potential and realities of the Ganga-Yamuna Heartland. And that reality is not necessarily rooted in regionalism or over-coagulation of welfare schemes in Purvanchal. However, it is ironic yet satisfying to know that our talent has been successful and hardworking in lieu of their commitment to jobs, or businesses across the country, and the world.


States such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and even Bihar (among the most unfortunate states) have their own identity, in terms of shaping India's policy, economic and even cultural future. The potential lies beyond the eagerness of good people in these states to build back better for India.

The North-Central region has had a history of leaders, people, businesses and contributions, which have been subject to abject ignorance for years. For example, you will find politicians and intellectuals embracing various central universities of Uttar Pradesh like those of Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi etc., and all the time we keep hearing the same narrative of how Uttar Pradesh has produced some of the most intellectual and industrious people.


If that is the case, why is it that these central universities have lost the sheen and quality they once had? The reason is simple. Electoral political circumstances have reduced the value of the strategically relevant institutions like research centres, universities etc., to mere places of tokenism. There is still education happening and exams being conducted. But the quality has been dampened. This reminds me of the plight of so many law schools and even non-law colleges under the Mumbai University affiliation.


So what could be needed then? Political change? I don't know. Electoral politics at best can be used to solve problems around good governance, socio-economic upheaval, better law & order and other generic issues around infra development & investor confidence. So political support alone does not help. Madhya Pradesh has had the continuation of political leadership for decades now. Yet, cities like Bhopal and Indore are nowhere well-resourceful and strategic like Pune, Lucknow or any other nearby states' main cities.


How caricatures tokenise the heartland's purview


If you observe the state of discourse, policy understanding and perception around the Ganga-Yamuna Heartland or the North-Central region (also can be referred to as Central India), it kind of explains the larger problem. Here are some of the ways the Heartland has been purviewed for years, which does not help anyone. I have not included those points, which discuss about law & order, corruption etc., since these issues are common and obvious:


  • Rustic Art Forms: Creative expressions from the region, like folk music and dance, are often portrayed in a stereotypical, exaggerated manner, emphasizing a rural, "backward" aesthetic rather than showcasing the depth and sophistication of these art forms. There is no focus to embrace the salient features of these art forms. Nobody even cares

  • Language and Dialogue: Characters from the North-Central region are often given exaggerated, rustic accents and colloquial language that can seem mocking rather than authentic, reinforcing the stereotype of a lack of sophistication. Even the so-called Hindi literature ecosystem is fraught with so many stereotypes of sadist narratives around people or extremely conservative narratives around culture in the region that the visible demand & attempt to promote newer literary innovation is just bypassed.

  • Dependency: The narrative often implies that the region is dependent on central government aid and lacks self-sufficiency, downplaying successful local policy initiatives that boost economic development. While that is partially true due to the dependence of the Heartland over the Delhi NCR vertical, the potential to enable better opportunities does not flourish because of the Uttar Pradesh bureaucracy's lack of industrial vision. I am not commenting on their intentions though.

  • Agrarian Focus and Poverty: The region is primarily shown as agrarian, with minimal representation of its industrial, technological, and service sectors, which are increasingly important to the local economy. Economic hardships are also often exaggerated, with a focus on poverty and struggle, overshadowing stories of success, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

  • Rebellious Youth: Young people from the region are often portrayed as either completely rebellious against traditional values or as completely conforming to them, without showing the nuanced struggles and aspirations of modern youth.

  • Absence of Modern Influences: The influence of contemporary global culture on the region's youth is often downplayed, overlooking the fusion of traditional and modern lifestyles.

  • Exaggerated Cuisine: Traditional foods are often depicted in a simplified or exaggerated manner, focusing on a few well-known dishes and ignoring the rich and varied culinary heritage of the region.

  • Neglect of Urban Growth: The vibrant urban centers and burgeoning economic hubs within the North-Central region are frequently overlooked in favor of portraying rural or semi-rural settings.


Now, we may agree or disagree on the degree of relevance or impact of such trends or factors outlined above. Nevertheless, it seems clear that these things happen, and the imprint it has left upon the people and decision makers in the Heartland, is that nothing is possible, and we would always have to bow down to any caricaturish policy visions of the Indian State. This is what I find problematic. This is kinda relatable to even places in Maharashtra where overcentralising all focus on Goa as a nearby state alongside Pune & Mumbai has kept the big state deprived of key highways, and development projects for decades. I must say it openly that some projects have started, and it is hoped that Maharashtra's industrial proliferation is relooked with a larger vision. I guess that is likely to happen.


Coming back to the Heartland, despite all social problems that exist across the country, the Heartland, across identities and faiths, has some of the most progressive, and nice people. There are strands of regionalism that exist in the region, and it is unfair for people in Bihar to blame Uttar Pradesh for caricaturing them, because the political economy of Bihar has never been friendly to their people at all. Bihar has been in a fait accompli situation for long, and that will take time to change.


People do not realise that despite change of governments, Uttar Pradesh, unlike Bihar and West Bengal, has had a flurry of infrastructure development and social mobility opportunities. The developmental work led by Uttar Pradesh's key regulatory & statutory bodies in development, & industry such as UPSIDA and UPEIDA, has been nothing short of exemplary despite the political uncertainty to promote industrial opportunities in Uttar Pradesh.

The contributions of Uttar Pradesh Metro Corporation, Lucknow Development Authority, New Okhla Industrial Development Authority and now the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Authority, has been fantastic. In addition, despite the law and order debacles and lack of opportunities in the big state, a generation of people is alive & kicking since the 2010s, which believes in socio-economic empowerment by building & staying in Uttar Pradesh.

The fact that has been possible under the leadership efforts of multiple Chief Ministers, from Mayawati to Yogi Adityanath shows that a section of leadership in the Heartland has always supported development, and prosperity. That being stated, unless states like Madhya Pradesh & Uttar Pradesh do not acquire unique policy visions, which are deeply connected to the state of affairs of their places, they may still not be able to catch up to India's economic powerhouses like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and even Karnataka.


Let's understand what acquiring a unique policy vision means. This is something which has never been addressed honestly across mainstream policy circles in India:


  • A unique policy vision for the North-Central Region essentially means that for such huge states and smaller states like Bihar and Uttarakhand, one needs to agree that the Heartland states need to have a pro-industry approach towards their people, where instead of merely copy-pasting ideas from other places, leaders across the board work on red-teaming and creating new ideas. Despite all the problems, Chandrababu Naidu and MG Ramachandran are some of the few leaders whose industrial vision has had been unique and deeply connected to their respective states. Even the former Telangana CM K Chandrashekhar Rao and others have had continued the industry-economy vision of Telangana forward;

  • A unique policy vision for the North-Central Region also means that policy continuity must be achieved to enculcate the sense of investor confidence, and socio-economic confidence. While we can hope for some industrial & policy continuity in the Heartland, until any major elections, some red-teaming is necessary to embrace a better vision so that irrespective of cooperating with a Union Government, these states can embrace their unique economic avenues as soon as possible;

  • A unique policy vision for the Heartland also includes recognising the fact that one has to take risks and aspire bigger. For example, there is nothing criminal for Uttar Pradesh to envision a 1 trillion USD economy goal. However, hyping around your industry and core policy approaches will never work, and could discourage people because many could realise that the Heartland states are merely reiterating some random policy marketing statements with an abused representation of data & zero policy pragmatism;

Interestingly, the mainstreaming of hyped policies across the world has been a huge reason why the global economy has not grown well, even in France, the US and other places in Europe. Even AI-led growth has not been possible since the release of ChatGPT 3.5, because most of it is hyped and not rooted in real action-based approaches. The Heartland is nothing short of a European Union (or a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) in terms of its geography and people. Unless we think with a clarified perspective, we cannot aim bigger & better;
  • A unique policy vision for the Heartland also includes acknowledging that the Heartland states, especially Uttar Pradesh, should develop a caucus of unique core policy agendas, like it happens in Gujarat and even Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra. While I do not find confidence in most of these policy think tanks in India, except few like ORF, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and others, I believe Lucknow, Patna and Bhopal must become the capitals of intellectual leadership in Indian policymaking, across fields, be it technology policy, artificial intelligence management, cultural policy, international trade, supply chains, social mobility, cybersecurity, science & technology, climate change, energy studies, management, legal reforms, or anything. Heartland states must restrict the role of MNC consulting firms, especially of the Big Four to non-policy work, such as lobbying around infrastructure projects, and securing funding, for example. The NITI Aayog, Government of India's policy think tank - cannot be merely entrusted with building intellectual leadership & policy caucuses, due to the body's inhibited problems and limitations. This means that educational institutions and policy institutions in the Heartland must embrace building a leadership of people with unique ideas. If that is not possible, then the Heartland states must open their doors to consultants, specialists and even academics & entrepreneurs who have independent, down-to-earth and practical backgrounds. Merely outsourcing consultants for economic policy in Karnataka or for technology policy in Uttar Pradesh, for example - is a recipe for disaster. There is no other way to say it. Outsourcing is also heavily undemocratic in my view, when it comes to core policy problems;



  • A unique policy vision for the Heartland must have a "Rurban" approach of development & socio-economic improvement. Harsh Madhusudan Gupta, one of the authors of "A New Idea of India", in social media discussions, has proposed a unique and ambitious policy vision for the North-Central region of India, particularly focused on Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. This densely populated area, which Madhusudan refers to as Aryavarta, is expected to reach population densities of 1,000 to 2,000 people per square kilometer in the coming years. To address this challenge and restore the region to its historical economic prominence, Madhusudan suggests a multi-faceted approach to urban development and infrastructure. This includes creating major new urban centers in the Lucknow-Kanpur region and Eastern UP/Bihar, while also developing a polycentric network of interconnected towns and smaller cities across the region, akin to Germany's Ruhr urban area;

The vision calls for significant investments in transportation, energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure to support the growing population. Madhusudan sees this as a "massive generational task" that can leverage the region's historical significance and the shift towards hybrid work models to drive economic growth and development, ultimately benefiting the entire country;
  • Finally, a unique policy vision for the North-Central Region must include the necessity to promote cultural innovation by changing the economics around the promotion of arts, literature, and music. The Heartland has had a history of fraught "representatives" reducing the cultural progressivism of the region, and the unique cultures & forms of arts in the region, which need rejuvenation;

For example, we all read or talk or even watch content around cyberpunk, and futurism, as to how a Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu or Delhi-based person would envision. What about somebody from Varanasi, Jabalpur, Gaya or Lucknow? Do they not have any vision? Are they not creative? Of course they are. However, a lot of people in the Heartland have been the victims of this lame myth that the Mumbai and Delhi NCR-based ecosystem of arts, music & cinema can alone represent the Heartland people in the ways possible because people in the Heartland have to hinge on 'surviving' for another day. This is a cultural-regional bias issue. Aspirational and original talent must be protected and supported by leaders in the Heartland.

A [Self-reflective] Proposal on Governing Uttar Pradesh as a State of Special Regions


Taking some suggestions from Harsh Madhusudan's ideas, here is a refined proposal for the development of Uttar Pradesh, focusing on creating regional clusters and strategic urban centres, which I had devised "out of fun" and curiosity, on X. The proposal below, is an updated and refined version of my thread on X.


Uttar Pradesh, with its rich history and diverse population, has immense potential for economic growth and development. To harness this potential, a comprehensive plan is needed that balances the development of major urban centers with a network of well-connected smaller cities and towns.The proposed plan involves creating four key regions within Uttar Pradesh:


  1. Uttar Pradesh State Capital Region (UPSCR): Centered around Lucknow, this region would include the districts of Unnao, Rae Bareli, Barabanki, Sitapur, and Hardoi. The UPSCR would be developed along the lines of the Delhi NCR, with a focus on infrastructure, connectivity, and planned urban growth. I am aware that this proposal is already under process of implementation under the current Uttar Pradesh Government.

  2. Purvanchal Central Region (PVCR): Led by the cities of Prayagraj, Varanasi, and Mirzapur-Vindhyachal, this region would drive economic development in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

  3. Bundelkhand Region: Comprising the districts of Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda, and Chitrakoot, this region would focus on leveraging its unique cultural heritage and promoting tourism, along with agriculture and industrial development. Since Kanpur is not a part of UPSCR / UPCR, the concept of a Bundelkhand region may work under the leadership of Kanpur as a city.

  4. Gorakhpur Industrial Central Region (GICR): With Gorakhpur and Maharajganj as its main hubs, this region would aim to create an industrial and manufacturing ecosystem in eastern Uttar Pradesh.


In addition to these regions, certain cities and districts could be granted special status:

  • Ayodhya could be designated as a Union Territory, given its religious and cultural significance, to ensure better security and strategic management.

  • Prayagraj and Mirzapur could be considered for special administrative status to facilitate focused development and governance.


The overall vision is to create a cluster of regions, special economic zones, and strategic urban centers within Uttar Pradesh. This approach would help prevent demands for smaller states based on regionalism while ensuring balanced development across the state.


To support this vision, significant investments would be needed in transportation, energy, water, and sanitation infrastructure. The development of expressways, rail networks, and airports would be crucial for improving connectivity within and between regions. The plan also proposes leveraging the shift towards remote and hybrid work models to drive economic growth in smaller cities and towns.

By providing modern urban facilities and infrastructure in these areas, the state can attract businesses and professionals looking for more affordable and livable alternatives to major metros. Implementing this ambitious plan would require close coordination between the state government, local authorities, and private sector stakeholders. A phased approach, with clear milestones and targets, would be essential to ensure the plan's success.


In the end - this proposal is just a hypothesis from my end. I drafted this idea so that the readers think through and unique about the possibilities of development models and social mobility differently. I hope this long-read has been fun and insightful to all.

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