The 2008 delimitation process was remarkably politically neutral, but MPs and MLAs who were on the delimitation commission’s advisory committee were able to circumvent inconvenient redistricting, an empirical analysis of the process has found.

Lakshmi Iyer, an economist and associate professor at the Harvard Business School, and Maya Reddy of Harvard’s McLean Hospital, looked at the delimitation process that involved the redrawing of constituency boundaries to reflect demographic changes and reallocation of reserved constituencies, for the first time in 30 years. They looked at Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, which differed in significant ways from each other, including the political party in power at the time, the nature of regional politics and political culture. As a result, the researchers said, their findings, published in a Harvard Business School working paper, were likely to be generalisable for the rest of the country.

Using Geographic Information System, maps and demographic data, the researchers looked at the proportion of his or her original voters an incumbent politician would lose following the delimitation. They also looked at the probability that the incumbent’s constituency would be reserved in such a way that he or she would become ineligible to contest again. They found that membership of the ruling party at the State or national level did not affect either outcome. Similarly, Ministers too were not able to avoid inconvenient delimitation. However, there was one exception: the five MPs and five MLAs across political lines from each State who were on the advisory committee to the delimitation commission in that State.

Constituencies where the incumbent was a member of the advisory committee were significantly less likely to have their constituencies reserved either for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes, after controlling for the population percentage of such groups, Professor Iyer and Ms. Reddy found. Membership of the advisory committee was also associated with a “significantly lower degree of demographic change, a higher proportion of original voters remaining in the electoral constituency of the politician in question.”

“Overall, we were remarkably successful in applying the rules in an unbiased manner,” N. Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner and ex-officio member of the Delimitation Commission, told The Hindu over the phone, crediting then chairman Justice Kuldip Singh and the commission’s secretariat for its success. “But of course we can’t be 100% certain. Maybe in some cases, we did marginally accommodate people who made representations that weren’t too out of the way,” he said.

“One important factor in the lack of political bias was that at the time, most politicians did not understand how the process of delimitation really worked,” Sanjay Kumar, a veteran analyst of elections and co-director of National Election Studies at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said. “However, members of the advisory committee would have had more sense of the process,” he added.

All the findings taken together, the extent of political interference was limited, Prof. Iyer said. “Only five Lok Sabha and five Vidhan Sabha members of each State were associate members of the delimitation commission in each State, out of 294 Vidhan Sabha and 42 Lok Sabha members in A.P. and 200 Vidhan Sabha members and 25 Lok Sabha members in Rajasthan.”

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