Protective Thinking: The Unwelcome Delimitation Part-I

Delimitation based on past census of 2001 may not give the best approximation of the ground reality.

The Union Government decision to set up Delimitation Commission 2020 to redraw the assembly and parliamentary constituencies of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has received a mixed reaction from these states and one union territory.

Several stake holders ranging from political parties in oppositions to NGOs have openly stated their reason to oppose the delimitation exercise in their respective states primarily citing the issue of its timing and absence of accurate census. This article shall discuss why the delimitation exercise is not welcome by those who oppose it while at the same time it is welcomed by some stakeholders, and why Central government wants to go ahead with delimitation in haste.

Opposition in Assam

Staunchly opposing delimitation exercise, Assam former Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and other senior Congress leaders have mentioned that, While the next census will be carried out in 2021 what is the use of carrying the exercise now based on 2011 census. This is nothing but an attempt to divert from real issues.

Cited in the Economic Times (1st March 2020), the leader of the opposition party in the Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia argued that there is no change in the state. The National Register of Citizens exercise is yet to be completed and there will be further complication due to delimitation.

Opposition in Manipur

Three times Chief Minister and present Congress Legislative Party (CLP) in Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh, said, The Congress will never support the delimitation plan. It is also a bit confusing that the BJP- led coalition Government in Manipur has not spoken a word. He further explained that the government should not turn a blind eye to the inevitable fall out. He further added that his party will never support Central government to carry out delimitation move at a time when people are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okram Joy, another veteran politician, also questioned Central government urgency to launch delimitation now when the government had frozen the 2011 Census and that there would not be delimitation until 2026 (Cited in The Hindu, 28th May 2020). He also stressed that due to 200  increase in the population of the hill district of Senapati and just 2  increase in Imphal valley, around four assembly constituency seats may be given to the hill districts and fears that valley districts will see a decrease in its assembly seats.

Opposition in the UT of J&K

With respect of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the situation seems chaotic as the reasons for oppositions to delimitation exercise vary from party to party. The National Conference (NC), whose three MPs including Farooq Abdullah were nominated as members of the Delimitation Commission by Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, on 28.05.2020, rejected the whole process on 29.05.2020. The NC stated that they will not participate in Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission.

The NC spokesperson said participating in the Delimitation Commission will be tantamount to accepting the events of August 5, 2019, which the NC is unwilling to do. Whereas the Reconciliations, Returns &Rehabilitation of Migrants, a Delhi based-NGO of the Kashmiri Pandits, has urged the centre to stop the delimitation process in Jammu and Kashmir since 2011 census is used for the purpose which would keep the pandits out from the process. More than two lakhs Kashmiri pandits are not enrolled in the electoral roll of Kashmir. The NGO maintained that the delimitation should start after completing the domicile process of the Kashmiri Pandits to give appropriate figure of their population, especially for those who are enrolled in their respective parliamentary constituencies as specified in their domicile certificates.

Opposition in Nagaland

Unlike their counterparts, Nagaland reason for opposition the delimitation is quite unique in their own unique way (as the people in Nagaland generally consider themselves to be Unique). Several factors, which most Nagaland political parties as well as some tribal organizations took as their justification for their opposition to the delimitation exercise, are worrisome as they reveal the old mentality of a tribalist. In other words, state actors appear more worried to see decrease in their district assembly constituencies that will no doubt reduce their share of fish and loaves post-delimitation. NDPP, through its press statement dated 08.03.2020,  pointed out the Naga political talk which, allegedly, is at its advanced stage of inking a final settlement , along with other reasons like tribal equity, dynamics of district representation, consultations with the apex tribal bodies, and mass based organizations, etc. as the reason for their opposition. Yet, these are not really the case here. Rather, what is really required in Nagaland at this point in time is political honesty from all political parties to prevent manipulation of electoral rolls and ensure the Census is accurate so that the Delimitation Commission can table a fair report upon which the government can act on the recommendations.

Certainly, the assertion of carrying out delimitation, even when notification is issued for 2021 census, to some reasonable degree sounds reasonable because delimitation based on past census of 2001 may not give the best approximation of the ground reality. On the other hand, however, the Naga Peoples Front (NPF) and the Nagaland Unit of the Janata Dal United (JD-U) have welcomed the delimitation. Nevertheless, the true color of any political party will be revealed once the delimitation exercise starts.

First Published:June 12, 2020, 9:48 p.m.