Congress Can Disagree, But Lok Sabha Delimitation Is Imminent And Needed
Delimitation with an increase in the size of the Lok Sabha is imminent and needed. 850-odd MPs for Lok Sabha may sound atrocious, but one must factor in the size of India’s population.
For instance, the United Kingdom has around 650 MPs for a nation of about 67 million people.
Yesterday evening (July 25), the tweet from Congress MP Manish Tewari on the possibility of delimitation before the 2024 National Elections invited a lot of reactions. While the idea of Lok Sabha delimitation is an open secret, the lack of clarity pertaining to the time and process around it creates room for speculation and debate.
The lower house of the Parliament, the House of the People or the Lok Sabha (LS) is the only house where representatives to the Central Government are directly elected by people across the country.
The election to the Lok Sabha, with the maximum strength of 552 members, is done through territorial constituencies, each representing a single MP. Two principles guide this election; firstly, the state is allotted a number of seats in the Lok Sabha in such a manner that the ratio between that number and its population is the same for all the states.
Secondly, each state is further divided into territorial constituencies such that the ratio between the population of each constituency and the number of seats allotted to it are the same throughout the state. Thus, uniformity on two levels, between states and between different constituencies in the same state, is ensured when it comes to representation.
However, that is the theoretical part, made for the paper, for each state and each constituency have registered different population growth rates. For this very purpose, the Constitution envisioned a readjustment to the seats allocated to each state in the Lok Sabha and a readjustment to each state’s territorial constituencies after every decadal census exercise.
Therefore, Delimitation Commission Acts were enacted in 1952, 1962, 1972, and 2002.
However, during the Congress-imposed Emergency between 1975 and 1977, the forty-second Amendment of 1976 froze the allocation of seats to the states for the Lok Sabha and the division of each state into territorial constituencies until 2000 at the 1971 level. The justification for this move was to wait for the results of the forced population control programme carried under the whims of Sanjay Gandhi.
The population numbers in 2001 offered enough reasons for a Lok Sabha delimitation. Compared to 1991, the overall population increase in India was more than 21 per cent. The growth was as low as 9.42 per cent for Kerala and as high as 64.41 per cent for Nagaland.
A seat readjustment during 2001 for the Lok Sabha would have been less significant politically and abrupt, but the 1971 benchmark was extended for another 25 years via the eighty-fourth Amendment Act of 2001, with the same justification.
The same amendment also allowed for the readjustment of territorial constituencies in the states using the numbers from the 1991 census. The eighty-seventh Amendment Act of 2003, however, allowed for delimitation of constituencies on the basis of the 2001 census, but without altering the number of seats allotted to each state in the Lok Sabha.
As per the Election Commission of India, the reallocation of seats can only happen after the first census post-2026.
Hence, in the 2029 National Elections (assuming the 2024-2029-2034 cycle prevails), almost six decades since 1971, the country would be electing representatives to the Lok Sabha using a benchmark designed for a population of about 550 million against the estimated population of 1.4 billion by then, almost three times!
For the government in power, the options are obvious. Either wait until 2031 and experiment with the reallocation in 2034. The reallocation coming six decades after 1971 would be abrupt and would usher in a political tsunami, given the diverging population growth trends in North and South India.
The second and more probable idea is to simply increase the MPs in the Lok Sabha from the current maximum strength of 552 post-2024 using the census figures from 2021-22.
Politically speaking, it is the lesser of the two evils for any government in power, given a reallocation will surely add more seats to the Hindi belt at the cost of the southern states.
With an increase in the size of the Lok Sabha, the north will inevitably have more representatives, but the south will not lose any seats and instead may gain a few more here and there.
The idea is not uncommon in public deliberations, for it has been floated by Shri Pranab Mukherjee, former President of India. Even with previous delimitations, the readjustment of seats has been supplemented by the addition of new ones.
The numbers back the argument to increase the size of the Lok Sabha as well. While the outdated 2011 census numbers may not be the ideal starting point to evaluate the ratio between the states and the Lok Sabha seats allotted to them, the elector numbers from each state for the 2019 elections gives a green signal to the need of delimitation.
On average, for every Lok Sabha seat allocated to Andhra Pradesh, the elector population (not to be confused with the total population) is around 1,576,238. For Maharashtra, it is 1,847,436. For Assam it is 1,575,004. For Bihar, it is 1,780,407. For Gujarat, it is 1,736,629. For Karnataka, it is 1,824,804. For Kerala, it is 1,310,241. For Madhya Pradesh, it is 17,88,533. For Rajasthan, it is 19,58,232. For Tamil Nadu, it is 1,536,970. For West Bengal, it is 1,666,697, and lastly, for Uttar Pradesh, it is 1,826,682.
The rationalisation envisioned has gone for a toss, for the elector numbers do not factor in the young population ineligible to vote, which would further increase the disparity between the northern and southern states. For instance, compared for electors, Tamil Nadu trails Uttar Pradesh by almost 290,000. However, when the population is factored in, the gap increases to around 800,000.
To use an analogy from the recently concluded series Loki, if the principle of having the same ratio amongst states when it comes to the population and the seats allotted to them is the sacred timeline, then the disparity in the elector numbers, and consequently, the population numbers, are the nexus events.
The paper from Alistair McMillan from two decades ago serves the same lesson. If over and under-representation in Lok Sabha was calculated on the basis of the 2001 population figures, the lower house was short by 104 seats, that is, the Lok Sabha should have had a total strength of 647 Lok Sabha MPs.
As per the 2001 census numbers, to ensure rationalisation of the Lok Sabha seats against the growing population, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Gujarat would gain five seats each while West Bengal and Maharashtra would gain eight seats each, Rajasthan would gain 10, Bihar would gain 11, Maharashtra would gain 12, and Uttar Pradesh would gain 23, almost 20 per cent of the new 104 seats envisioned in this paper.
However, that was 2001, and in 2021, the numbers would throw up a different reality. As per another paper from Carnegie, the same calculations, when applied to the 2011 census figures, give a Lok Sabha size of 718.
Projected for 2026, the Lok Sabha size is estimated to be close to 848. If one goes by proportional representation without any reduction in the number of seats in any state, Uttar Pradesh emerges as the biggest state with 143 seats, Bihar with 79, Maharashtra with 76, West Bengal with 60, Gujarat with 43, Karnatak with 41, Tamil Nadu with 49, Madhya Pradesh with 52, Delhi with 12, Haryana and Punjab with 18 each, Odisha with 28, and Assam with 21.
The increase in the size of Lok Sabha would aid better governance, better allocation of monetary and human resources, and better representation from each state.
For the parties operating on a state level, like the Trinamool or Samajwadi, some gains would be imminent, and there would be an incentive in expanding beyond the state. Arvind Kejriwal could happily turn up in more constituencies to offer freebies, for instance.
For the national parties, the increase in the size of the Lok Sabha would open up more opportunities as well but would warrant more investment in ground networks. The rewards would be bigger, but the efforts required too would grow.
While the states in southern India may argue that they are being penalised for keeping the population in control, to assume that population control measures must dictate the value of a vote of an individual in different states is incorrect.
Population growth, decline, and control are a result of various social, economic, cultural, community, religious, and historical reasons, and therefore, the thinking around reallocation of seats cannot be reduced to one poorly justified reasoning from the Emergency days. Also, in the era of inter-state migration, the south v/s north debate is pointless.
While 850-odd MPs for Lok Sabha may sound atrocious to begin with, one must factor in the size of India’s population. For instance, the United Kingdom has around 650 MPs for a nation of about 67 million people.
For Congress, a Lok Sabha with 848 MPs poses an array of challenges, for they have been on a losing streak across states set to gain more seats through rationalisation and readjustment.
Thus, the answer to Manish Tewari and Congress’ concerns does not lie in public consultation in a nation of 1.3 billion people but in having a credible leader to replace Rahul Gandhi as the face of the Congress.
1.3 billion voters must not pay the price of a failed yet stubborn and irreplaceable Congress party leadership, incapable of garnering the popular vote. Congress can disagree, but for the greater good of the country, delimitation with an increase in the size of the Lok Sabha is imminent and needed.
Post-2024, the Modi government must embark on this noble pursuit.
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