Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Akhir / Rajab 1423 H
September 2002
Volume 15-09 No:189

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Editorial


Approaching exercise in delimitation


Approaching exercise in delimitation

The Central Government has constituted the Delimitation Commission to demarcate the Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies afresh. Retaining the total number of Lok Sabha seats at 542, the new Commission has been assigned the task of re-designing the constituencies in terms of geographical area in order to ensure uniformity in terms of number of voters. This exercise is repeated every 25 years to readjust electoral demographic balance which gets altered due to factors such as rural influx into urban areas. For example, Outer Delhi, East Delhi, Kankapura (on the outskirts of Bangalore), North Madras (must be North Chennai now) have now over 2.5 million voters against the average size of 1.2 million voters in each of the Lok Sabha constituency. Mumbai North East (also known as Thane-Belapur ) Lok Sabha constituency has almost five million voters. These anomalies look grotesque when compared to some constituencies having as low as four lakh voters such as Rajapur (in Maharashtra), Gandhinagar (Gujarat) and Chandini Chowk and East Delhi.

The delimitation exercise could also offer opportunity for all those social groups which feel their representation in the legislatures does not reflect their numerical strength, the very essence of democracy and socio-political justice. Numerically smaller groups which have a thin, but even spread through the length and breadth of the country justifiably feel suppressed in matters of legislative representation. But that it should happen with a minority as large as Muslims (12 per cent of population) comprising 25 per cent of electoral strength of 67 Lok Sabha segments is something that points to the basic flaw in the electoral dynamics. While on one level, Muslims are themselves responsible for want of an effective electoral strategy, negative gerrymandering of electoral segments aimed at suppressing representation of some communities too, seems to be at work. This has found an echo even in the report of the National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC). The Panel took strong note of Muslim representation hovering between five to six per cent in the lower house of the Parliament, i.e., Lok Sabha. It even noted that in states like Gujarat (9 per cent Muslims) and Madhya Pradesh (five per cent ) no Muslim could be elected to the Assembly in some elections. Assam with nearly 35 per cent Muslim electorate sends just two among the 12 MPs to Lok Sabha. Nearly a fourth of West Bengal population is Muslim. But it has only six MPs among its contingent of 42. Maharashtra and Tamilnadu have no Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha. The situation, at best, is unenviable and at worst, a sad commentary on the democracy which fails to ensure adequate, if not proportionate, representation of smaller social groups.

A cursory study reveals that of the 67 above mentioned constituencies, 12 are reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Scheduled Tribes (STs). But for SC reservation, some of these constituencies could have sent a Muslim to the Lok Sabha. Figures speak for themselves: Karimganj in Assam has 45 per cent Muslims, but is an SC reserved constituency who make up only 15 per cent of the population. Bijnore (SC) 38 per cent Muslims and 23 per cent SC; Birbhum in West Bengal (SC) 35 per cent Muslims and 32 per cent SC; Ottapalem in Kerala (SC) 30 per cent Muslims and 17 per cent SCs; Araria in Bihar (SC) 28 per cent Muslims and 21 per cent SCs. In several other cases, there has been hairline difference in numerical strength of Muslim and SC voters in certain constituencies.

This is just one aspect. Negative gerrymandering of constituencies has resulted in dilution of Muslim voting strength in places such as Bhiwandi and Malegaon which were separated into two Lok Sabha segments during the last delimitation exercise. Gerrymandering of constituencies itself is not an odious exercise provided it is applied to enable more members of politically and socially disadvantaged groups to enhance their representation. The United States allowed areas of Black preponderance to be bounded together into constituencies in its last delimitation exercise and this has resulted in their share of Senate seats going up.

Perhaps taking a cue from the US precedent, the NCRWC recommended consolidating Muslim minority areas into constituencies in order to translate the Muslim votes into the legislative seats. Even Muslims would need to take up the issue at their own regional fora and with political parties. Representations need to be made to the individual members of the Delimitation Commission by Muslim bodies. Perhaps more than this, some research bodies should try to identify areas of the Muslim concentration that pose no geographical barriers for consolidation purposes. A similar exercise should be taken up at the level of states too. These measures will go a long way in ensuring fairer representation. Blaming it all on bias and prejudice would not help. Solid measures would do

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News| Community Roundup | View from the Other Side | Editorial| Readers Comments| Investigation|
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