Delimitation fallout needs no political forecasting

Electoral sinew to one set of States while depleting representative muscle to another will fuel north-south India tensions

May 19, 2022 12:12 am | Updated 11:15 am IST

‘The population-stabilising States of India must continue to enrich our legislative and parliamentary processes’

‘The population-stabilising States of India must continue to enrich our legislative and parliamentary processes’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There was a time, not all that long ago, when English speakers in the south of India routinely referred to our north as ‘Upper India’. This sense of the north’s upper-ness included, somewhere in its folds, a sense of the north having the upper hand in the affairs of the nation, of being bigger, more populous and, therefore, the more dominant of the two. Being ‘upper’ also encased within its meaning the fact of the nation’s capital, Calcutta and later Delhi, being ‘up’ there, with Simla as the nation’s summer capital ‘up above the world so high like a diamond in the sky’.

The political summit

The Imperial Legislative Council, with its Central Legislative Assembly as the Lower House and the Council of State as the Upper House, being located in Delhi pushed that upperness further up. Seeing persons of the eminence of Muhammad Habibullah, A. Rangaswami Iyengar, S. Srinivasa Iyengar, Omandur Ramaswami Reddiar, Arcot Ramasamy Mudaliar, Tanguturi Prakasam, Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar, V.V. Giri, S. Satyamurti, N.G. Ranga, C.N. Muthuranga Mudaliar, T.S.S. Rajan, K. Santhanam, M.C. Rajah, the Raja of Bobbili and N. Sivaraj ‘move’ diligently to Delhi by up-bound trains, for legislative sessions, could not but reinforce the perceived image of India’s north as India’s political summit. Later, the Constituent Assembly with N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer, Rajaji, Jerome D' Souza, K. Kamaraj, O.V. Alagesan, C. Subramaniam, V.I. Munuswamy Pillai, in it, and some remarkable south Indian women — Ammu Swaminathan, G. Durgabai, Annie Mascarene, Dakshayani Velayudham — and successive Lok Sabhas and the Rajya Sabha drawing Members of Parliament of the stature of A.K. Gopalan, T. Nagi Reddy, C.N. Annadurai, P. Sundarayya, Panampilly Govinda Menon, C.H. Mohammed Koya, M. Ruthnaswamy, K.T.K. Thangamani and Era Sezhiyan, going to Delhi, by air rather than by rail, of course, continued the ‘India’s north as India’s peak’ image. Needless to say, that ‘peak’ was scaled in terms of outstanding legislative performance by these men and women.

Congress and Left symmetry

The Indian National Congress, however, it needs to be noted, was from the very start, aware of the need for India’s regions to be seen as equal, bereft of any asymmetry. Its very third session after Bombay (1885) and Calcutta (1886) was held in Madras (1887, and many times later), followed by several Congress sessions of note taking place in the south — Amaravati/Amraoti (1897), Coconada (1923), Belgaum (1924), and the seminal one, at Avadi (Madras) in 1955, attended by Yugoslavia’s President Marshal Josip Broz Tito, where the party adopted ‘a socialistic pattern of society’ as its avowed objective.

The All India Kisan Sabha, the peasant wing of the Communist Party of India, likewise, which had first met in a ‘founder-conference’ in Lucknow in 1936, met at its fifth session in 1940 in Palasa, Srikakulam, then in Madras Presidency and now in Andhra, under the chairmanship of Rahul Sankrityayan. It has, since, met very pointedly in southern venues as much as in northern.

These considered arrangements embody the opening Article 1 of our Constitution: India, that is Bharat.

That phrase makes India, Bharat and Bharat, India — one belonging to and in fact, being the other.

But the question needs to be asked, today: What makes India, ‘India’, or Bharat, Bharat?

And why, today?

Impact of delimitation

Because four years from now, India’s electoral democracy will stand on an existential crossroads. A delimitation of the constituencies that will elect Members of the Lok Sabha, following the population figures returned by the next decennial Census, is to take place in 2026.

A good thing! We cannot have, should not have, the same number of Members of Parliament — 543 — representing a vastly increased population in the Lok Sabha. Mathematically speaking, the higher the number of people per constituency, the lower the impact each voter has on parliamentary representation — clearly an undesirable situation. The Constitution of India recognised this and provided for a periodic, Census-linked re-arrangement of constituencies to make their representation in Parliament tenable. More people should mean more MPs. Simple, sound logic. But simple, sound politics also? No.

A population-based marking out or re-arrangement of constituencies, as envisaged in Article 82 of the Constitution, will have the effect of giving more MPs to the States and Union Territories that have let their numbers grow, and will give markedly less MPs to those that have held their numbers in some check. Realising the anomaly that a delimitation based on Census data would cause, a delimitation freeze was put in position by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976. This was extended by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee through the 84th Amendment. It is this extension that is to end in 2026, placing us at a crossroads.

What the data show

What is the way forward?

Considering the Census data for 2011, almost half (48.6%) of our population (of approximately 1.38 billion) is contributed by the States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. According to the projections made by the Technical Group formed by National Commission on Population, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for 2011-36, Uttar Pradesh’s share in India’s population would see an increase by 1.74 percentage points (from 15.30% in 1971 to a projected 17.03% in 2026), Bihar’s by 1.59 percentage points (from 7.69% in 1971 to projected 9.28% in 2026) and Rajasthan’s by 1.17 percentage points (from 4.70% in 1971 to projected 5.87% in 2026).

Tamil Nadu’s share in India’s population would see a decline by 2.08 percentage points (from 7.52% in 1971 to projected 5.44% in 2026), undivided Andhra’s by 1.46 percentage points (from 7.94% in 1971 to a projected 6.48% in 2026), and Kerala’s by 1.36 percentage points (from 3.89% in 1971 to a projected 2.54% in 2026). Interestingly, West Bengal’s will also decline by 1.03 percentage points (from 8.08% in 1971 to a projected 7.05% in 2026).

Re-arranging and standardising the number of people per constituency through the scheduled delimitation exercise will inevitably lead to a reduced representation for States that have managed to stabilise their populations, and to a higher representation for States that have not stabilised their populations.

It needs no political forecasting to see that emotions will be strained by a delimitation exercise that adds electoral sinew to one set of States, while depleting representative muscle to another. The upperness syndrome, which has now become a thing of the past, should not come back in the guise of delimitation. We cannot afford a tension on the north-south front in addition to those we already have.

There are alternatives

There are two alternatives before us: one, we go in for another freeze, this time not for any specific period but for until all States have achieved population stabilisation. Two, we request demographic and statistical experts to devise a mathematical model along the lines of the ‘Cambridge Compromise’ based on a mathematically equitable “formula” for the apportionment of the seats of the European Parliament between the member-states. That formula cannot be applied to our situation as such but needs to be studied so as to customise it for our needs.

Given the complications of the Indian demographic scene, and the distorting shadow that Census data may cast on the delimitation process, I would say the first option is the more persuasive one. The population-stabilising States of India that is Bharat, which include all the southern States, must continue to enrich our legislative and parliamentary processes as they have been doing since the time of the Imperial Legislative Council, with no penalties having to be paid for their sense of responsibility. We need to limit population, not representation.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and Governor. The article has statistical inputs from the Population Foundation of India

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