Article 82 of the Indian Constitution stipulates that a delimitation of parliamentary constituencies be carried out after every census. However, the disproportionate growth of population in certain regions of the country combined with the failure/reluctance of state governments to pursue family planning measures necessitated a freeze in delimitation activity after 1976.
According to the 84th Constitutional Amendment Act, the government decided to extend this freeze till 2026, even though the constitutional embargo had lapsed. Even after the 2001 census figures were published, the number of parliamentary seats allocated to any state were not altered.
In countries like the UK, there are 650 MPs with each one representing roughly 1 lakh individuals. If we estimate the population of India to be 1.3 billion, the scanty representation for a mammoth number of citizens will be amply clear. In India’s case, each MP represents about 24 lakh citizens (1.3 billion divided among 545 Lok Sabha MPs). India’s scenario seems much bleaker if ‘direct democracies’ such as Sweden are taken as reference.
So, in order for our democracy to be more representative, we need more MPs (especially after 2026). In this article, I will try to depict the problems posed by a ‘business-as-usual delimitation’, if they are based on the 2021 census figures which are yet to be released, and try to come up with some innovative ideas that our planners should look into.
It is well known that India doesn’t exactly fit into the western ideas of a ‘nation state’. The many ‘nations’ living together shall be accommodated and nurtured continuously for a unified India which celebrates its diversities.
The perception of one region controlling the others or ignoring cultural and social aspirations may invoke popular agitations. In the worst-case scenario, these can turn out to be very ugly. Let’s not forget the fringe forces who advocate secession. For instance, recently, the cattle slaughter regulations had resurfaced talks about ‘DravidaNaadu‘ or ‘United States of South India‘ among a section of the Twitterrati. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for India to preserve the principles of the ‘population-seats’ ratio and the ‘one vote-one value’ tenet as fundamental pillars of its democratic polity.
In this context, the viability of a delimitation of parliamentary constituencies (and not just ‘rationalisation’) based on the probable 2021 census figures will raise the following dilemmas:
1. Politically ‘important’ versus ‘unimportant’ states
States such as Bihar, UP and Rajasthan will bag a huge number of new parliamentary constituencies owing to their population figures, which will increase even further in the coming years. These states can be categorised as ‘politically important’.
This will put Tamil Nadu and Kerala at a disadvantage, because they have achieved a near-replacement fertility rate and their populations have stabilised. The eagerness of political parties to focus on the so-called ‘important political states’ (for better electoral prospects) also needs to be factored in all this.
2. The composition of the Rajya Sabha
Unlike the US Senate which ensures equal representation for all federal units (each state having two representatives), India’s Rajya Sabha does have more members from populous states. This will again benefit some states in the ‘Hindi belt’ in terms of the number of representatives.
The narratives are solely based on the understanding that even though Indian states are ‘mere administrative units’ which don’t enjoy a constitutionally-assured permanence, their continued existence over all these years and the constitutional separation of power has given them the nature of autonomous units in their own spheres.
Therefore, even if the above issues does not pose a challenge to India at all, the ‘state-wise’ identity cannot be ruled out completely. This necessitates innovations that will ensure the smooth functioning of the federal structure in future.
1. Maintaining the status quo
This is more of a postponing of the problem than addressing it. This may include extending the delimitation criteria to 2050 (for instance), rather than keeping it valid till 2026 only.
However, this hampers the spirit of representative democracy and is not acceptable. A revision based on later census figures (like the 1981 or 1991 census figures) will only serve as a patchwork and not a permanent fix.
2. Smaller administrative units
Demands such as Harit Pradesh, Vidarbha and Saurashtra can be given a more serious thought. A larger number of federal units may help in diluting the ‘state-wise’ and ensure a more well-balanced representation of states in the Indian parliament.
3. Parliamentary constituencies across state borders
In areas which have cultural,social and linguistic uniformity, constituencies across borders seems to be a viable option. However, regional and caste-based identity politics may make it less conducive.
4. Importance of Rajya Sabha
A Rajya Sabha based on the US model, having equal number of members from each state, is very much within India’s consideration. The Rajya Sabha can be an accommodating forum where members from the ‘not-so-politically- important’ states can be absorbed into Union cabinet and other important constitutional agencies to give them their due share. However, this is not a formal solution as it depends on the considerations of the political parties concerned.
5. Fair, just but ‘differential’ treatment
This include a delimitation of parliamentary constituencies based on the ‘latest census’ (for states with low fertility rates) and based on a ‘later census’ (for states with high fertility rates).This ‘differential’ treatment may not go well with the principle of equality among federal units – and hence, it needs more debate.
Other fixes that may result in substantial changes to India’s polity (such as the Presidential system of governance, proportional representation, etc.) also need to be discussed and debated. Whatever the solution may be, it can only be reached through a cumbersome and lengthy democratic consensus-building process among various stakeholders.
In the meantime, political parties should refrain from rhetoric that adversely affects national interests. Moreover, India also needs to find a way out for the speedy resolution of federal disputes (such as the inter-state river disputes) before moving ahead.