It’s time to rethink the constitutional provision meant to provide representation to a minority community but is being blatantly misused by political parties
Through the waxing and waning of the Anglo-Indian community, demographically and economically, there has been one constant factor in their story, post-Independence: the constitutional provisions granting nomination to two members from among them to the Lok Sabha and one to the Vidhan Sabha in the States where they have a presence. These two provisions were expected to allay their insecurities following the end of British rule, and, hopefully, stem their exodus from India.
However, over the passage of six decades since the Constitution was adopted, the two provisions (Article 331 and Article 333) governing nomination have increasingly become devices for bolstering wafer-thin majorities in legislatures, besides smacking of partisanship. Worse, the application of these provisions has an unmistakable, undemocratic ring to it, in the absence of institutional mechanisms to secure the community’s consent for the nominees. Therefore, isn’t it time to revisit Article 331 and Article 333, which had been initially envisaged to operate for only 10 years?
The rationale behind the nomination was linked to the minuscule population of Anglo-Indians, and the imminent rollback of the preferential treatment accorded to them under British rule. In the Constituent Assembly, Sardar Hukam Singh suggested that the President should nominate two members from any minority community — not just Anglo-Indian — which he felt had not been adequately represented in the Lok Sabha.
Ananthasayanam Ayyangar countered Singh, arguing that the other minorities, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, were not as few as Anglo-Indians and would not go unrepresented in the Lok Sabha. He said their population was not even “five lakhs for the whole of India. You cannot point out to any constituency where they will be in a majority.” The Anglo-Indians were a special case among all minorities because, Ayyangar felt, “they were once part rulers of this country and therefore they should be shown some partiality for some time to come.” Ultimately, Ayyangar’s argument prevailed.
Though nomination for Anglo-Indians has been extended every 10 years, by amending Article 334 (b), the constitutional provisions providing special treatment to them in certain sectors were allowed to lapse. For instance, Article 336 provided for reservation for Anglo-Indians in railways, customs, postal and telegraph services on the same basis as it had existed before 1947 for the first two years of the Constitution coming into operation; but the quantum of posts was to be reduced every two years and phased out at the end of the tenth year. Similarly, following more or less the same formula, Article 337 providing special educational grants to the community, as it had existed before 1947, was to end in 1960.
Yet, all these privileges did not slow the exodus of the community from the country. For one, the migration of Anglo-Indians, as several academic papers bear out, arose from the issue of identity: many of them perceived themselves to be culturally closer to the British than to Indians, and considered “England” as their home. The Census data of 1941 pitches their population in undivided India at 1,40,422, a figure thrown up through a survey conducted inadequately because of war efforts consuming the colonial government’s energies. It is generally agreed they were approximately five lakhs in 1947, and because of the unabated migration, their population today is said to be between one and 1/ lakhs.
In a reversal of the earlier policy, Census 2011 is now required to furnish the socio-economic and caste profile of India. Consequently, we should soon know their population figures. Should it hover around, say, one or even two lakhs, is there not a case, rooted in the logic of democracy, for reducing the number of nominated members in the Lok Sabha by at least one, if not annulling these provisions altogether at the Centre and in the States? Not only is the efficacy of this privilege debatable, Anglo-Indians today are more integrated in society than they were in 1950.
A rethink is perhaps implausible in these days of fractured mandates, for the nomination provision enables the ruling party to boost its strength in the Assembly and insure itself against unforeseen mishaps. Thus, in March 2005, days before he was to prove his majority in the hung Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha, Shibu Soren invoked Article 333 to nominate Alfred George de Rozario as an Anglo-Indian member of the Assembly. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arjun Munda petitioned the Supreme Court, which prohibited the Governor from consenting to the nomination until the floor-test was completed.
Once Mr. Soren resigned and Mr. Munda proved his majority, Joseph Galstaun was nominated to the Anglo-Indian seat. It goaded Mr. Rozario to move the High Court, claiming his pending nomination had been unjustifiably set aside. The Munda government argued that the Supreme Court had prohibited the Governor from nominating Mr. Rozario. Not only this, another Anglo-Indian, David J. Brett, filed an intervention petition claiming that neither Mr. Rozario nor Mr. Galstaun qualified for the seat as they were residents of Bihar, and not Jharkhand. The controversy testifies to the tenuous link existing between the community and its representative in the Assembly.
Take Uttarakhand, whose first Chief Minister, N.D. Tiwari, invoked Article 333 to advise the Governor to nominate R.V. Gardner to the Assembly, much to the chagrin of the BJP. Yet, in 2007, the BJP itself did not dither in nominating Ms Karen Meyer Hilton, boosting its strength of 35 seats it won in the election to 36 in the 71-member Assembly. Following last year’s election, the Congress emerged as the largest party in a hung Assembly, and though it had the support of three Independents and three of a regional outfit, it still nominated Mr. Gardner before Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna had proved his majority.
Then, Uttarakhand’s BJP State chief protested to the Governor against the impropriety of nominating an Anglo-Indian member even before Mr. Bahuguna had passed the floor-test. Yet the same constitutional impropriety was taken recourse to by the BJP’s Chief Minister-designate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, in Karnataka in 2008. He had advised the Governor to nominate Derrick M.B. Fullinfaw to the Anglo-Indian seat in the Assembly, even before he had proved his majority. Sure, the BJP would have won the floor-test without Mr. Fullinfaw’s support, as would have Mr. Bahuguna in Uttarakhand without Mr. Gardner’s, yet both chose to tread cautiously.
For the moment, reverse the result of the vote of confidence that the National Democratic Alliance government lost in 1999 and assume it had instead won by a margin of one. Considering the two nominated members — Denzil B. Atkinson and Dr. Beatrix D’ Souza — belonged to the BJP and Samata Party respectively, the government would have survived because of two members who hadn’t been elected. No wonder, ruling parties choose to nominate Anglo-Indians on whom they can depend on in a crisis. The two current nominated Anglo-Indian members in the Lok Sabha, Ms Ingrid Mcleod and Dr. Charles Dias, belong to the Congress.
Initiative in Karnataka
To bring accountability to the nomination process, the Anglo-Indian leaders of Karnataka recently floated the Anglo-Indian Nomination Action Committee, which is to recommend five names to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, from which, they hope, he would chose a member to represent the community. Will Mr. Siddaramaiah grab the chance of establishing an exemplary precedent for eliciting the community’s opinion, however limited, before announcing the nomination? This will redeem somewhat the near-robotic extension every 10 years to the provisions governing nomination for the community without even scrutinising the need for such measures in a decade remarkably different from the 1950s.
(Ajaz Ashraf is a Delhi-based journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)