- This article discusses the disproportionate electoral representation prevailing in India and how delimitation can bring in proportionality along with the way forward for a just electoral system. It draws comparison with the U.S in the process.
India Vs The U.S.
|An Indian Member of Parliament (MP) is said to represent 2.5 million citizens, on average.
|A U.S. House of Representatives member typically represents approximately 7,00,000 citizens.
|India is a heterogeneous country with a multiparty political system across States.
|The U.S is a homogeneous country with a bi-party political system, where the same parties compete across all States.
|India’s political system is riven with malapportionment, with legislative weight being skewed towards the citizens of select States empowering select political outfits over others.
|It has a political system with each State given two senators in the U.S. Senate, enabling a block on legislation.
Current state of electoral representation in India
- In this year so far, India had around 4,126 Members of the Legislative Assembly, 543 Lok Sabha MPs and 245 Rajya Sabha MPs.
- There are far too few parliamentarians/Assembly members responsible for citizen welfare in India.
- While India does have innumerable grassroots politicians, 1,000-plus municipal councils/corporations with between 50 to 100 wards and approximately 2,38,000 panchayats with between five to 30 members on average at the national/State level, there is a clear deficit in terms of their adequate representation in order to raise critical issues and enable law-making.
Delimitation- a potential solution to restore proportionality
- In India, Delimitation Commissions have been constituted 4 times – 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002 under the Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002.
- There was no delimitation after the 1981 and 1991 Censuses because the union government had suspended delimitation in 1976 until after the 2001 census so that states’ family planning programs would not affect their political representation in the Lok Sabha.
- In February 2002, the 84th Amendment Act of the Constitution was introduced, which froze the number of Lok Sabha seats until the first Census after 2026 (i.e., 2031).
- The fear of losing meaningful political representation was especially great in the southern states which had greater success in controlling populations.
- So, the last delimitation exercise was based on the 2001 Census and only readjusted boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and reworked the number of reserved seats (without changing the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies).
- With the 2021 Census delayed (now likely to be conducted in 2024, with results potentially published by 2026), there is a window to conduct delimitation earlier. However, unleashing delimitation will have its consequences.
Consequences of delimitation
- Delimitation, in its historical form, would engender a bias towards a Hindi-speaking northern population while enabling select national parties to rise to power.
- States which have performed well in reducing their population growth, such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, may be punished.
- Assuming the number of parliamentary seats goes up to say 753 seats, States such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala might see an increase in seats of about 6%, with Karnataka potentially seeing an 11% rise.
- Meanwhile, northern States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan would see their seats rise by 63%.
How to minimize the deleterious consequences of delimitation?
- Increase the number of seats in Parliament significantly (at least around 848 seats to avoid any State losing seats), which can help to enhance democratic representation ratios.
- Delimitation should not be driven only by factors based on population; instead geographical determinism, economic productivity, linguistic history, and a sense of fairness should also play a part.
Way forward for a just electoral system
- Promote federalism: Federalism needs to be promoted and States to be given a better voice and a platform to represent their interests.
- Constitutional reform can be pursued to give each state the same number of Rajya Sabha MPs.
- Direct elections for Rajya Sabha MPs should be promoted while ensuring that a domicile requirement is added.
- Proportional representation can also be considered, especially for the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections by considering examples of Australia and France.
- Have more states: There is potential for India to have more States (moving up from 29 to say 50 or even 75 States).
- For example, a State such as Uttar Pradesh, is simply too big to be governed well as a single unit. Also a concern about North Indian or large States dominating the polity would be alleviated if we had more and smaller-sized States.
- A New State Reorganisation Commission may be set up after the next election to evaluate the socio-economic and administrative viability of select to-be States (for example, Bundelkhand, Gorkhaland, Jammu, Karu Nadu, Kongu Nadu, Mithila, Saurashtra, Tulu Nadu and Vidarbha).
- Enhanced local democratic representation: Every Census town may have a fixed-tenure mayor elected in direct elections, who must also be empowered, with decision-making ability over 18 critical functions — for example, urban planning, water supply, fire, land use regulations and slum improvement), as outlined by the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act.