An accelerating shift of political power from the southern States to the region above the Vindhyas was to be the central debate around the delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies which is to follow the first census after 2026, but the proposed reservation of one-third of the seats in Parliament and Assemblies for women has added another power shift to the mix.
The next delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies will hence involve two shifts — from the southern to northern and eastern States, and from men to women across the country. In the process, the serious concerns regarding the diminishing say of States that have stabilised their populations in the affairs of the Union could possibly be overshadowed by the countrywide unanimity on women’s empowerment.
Also read | Is the delimitation question settled?
If Lok Sabha seats were to be redistributed according to current distribution of the population, the northern States might have as many as 32 seats more, while the southern States might have up to 24 seats fewer. Kerala could lose six of its current 20 Lok Sabha seats and Tamil Nadu 11 of its 39, according to some calculations.
Delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies was kept on hold until 2026 through a constitutional amendment in 2002 in the hope that population growth across the country will be even by then. “Northern States like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have decennial growth rates of 12% to 15%, whereas, in the southern States, the decennial growth rates range between 6% and 10%. From 2011 to 2021 there was no levelling,” former Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat points out. It also happens that population is growing faster in States that are BJP strongholds.
National parties such as the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties are less adept at handling mobilisations around caste and regional identities which fuel regional parties. They try to rely on pan-India identities such as religion, class and gender.
In fact, women’s reservation is one question that had the BJP, the Congress, and the Left on the same side for the past two decades or more. OBC politics-driven parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that sought caste quotas within the proposed quota for women considered the entire move as an upper caste, upper class scheme to curtail their political power. That line of resistance to women’s reservation had limited logic, considering the fact that OBC representation is not dependent on reserving seats at all.
Though the Congress has now raised the demand it had rejected when in power, no party appears serious about pressing a demand for OBC quota within the women’s quota.
So the proposed expansion of women’s representation in lawmaking will weaken not only politics around regional identity, but also autonomous OBC politics in the Hindi heartland. The BJP had already subsumed caste identity politics within its Hindutva umbrella to a significant extent in the heartland. By championing women’s empowerment, it is seeking further reinforcement of its social base. The pan-national category of gender complicates the unidimensional politics of caste and regional identities. For the BJP it is an additional layer to its politics of Hindu religious identity which also cuts across regions, caste and even gender.