The second major opportunity missed was to address the long term question of under-enfranchisement of the urban voter, especially the urban poor. Our system seems to have learnt little from the disastrous experience of the previous freeze in delimitation which resulted in monstrous constituencies like that of East Delhi with an electorate of over 30 lakh. Two steps were required to avoid the repetition of this experience. One, the time lag between two delimitations had to be reduced so as to allow for revision according to the latest population figures. The best solution would have been to go back to the original constitutional mandate of a fresh delimitation after every decennial census.
Two, for the intervening period reliable population projections could be used. Countries like Australia use the population projection method for this purpose. Our situation of rapid migration to urban areas demanded that we take both these steps; eventually none of the remedies were accepted or perhaps even considered. We can be fairly sure that the experience of East Delhi will be replicated in Gurgaon, NOIDA, Faridabad and dozens of other peripheries of urban centres all over the country, leading to a severe under-enfranchisement of the urban poor halfway through the period of the current delimitation.
The third major opportunity missed in the current exercise was to begin to think about addressing the under-representation of some communities. This is not an easy question to tackle. It is an established principle of delimitation that the boundaries should coincide with communities of interest as much as possible. The trouble of course is that ‘communities of interest’ can be defined in a variety of ways: geographically-defined communities or communities that share a common race, ethnic or tribal background, or the same religion or language. It is also well-known that once drawn, boundaries tend to perpetuate the identity that in the first place informed the boundaries.
While every political actor talks about these political communities all the time, we tend to maintain an official silence when it comes to formal political designs. The Sachar Committee report identified delimitation as a key to Muslim political representation. While the committee may or may not be right in suggesting that the delimitation is a possible cause for the under-representation of Muslims, this was a valid cue for thinking of delimitation as a possible solution.
There are various ways in which the existence of social communities may be taken into account while drawing the boundaries. We do not need to follow the American method of carving black majority constituencies. It is well-known that the political boundaries in the northeastern hill states mostly respect the boundaries of ethnicity. Instead of taking on this complex question and begin thinking of a way out, the Parliament and the Delimitation Commission chose to postpone this discussion by at least a quarter of a century.
The fourth and perhaps the biggest opportunity missed, in this instance by the Delimitation Commission, was its refusal to align the map of the first and the second tier of democracy to the third tier. We have a ridiculous situation of two unconnected political maps for the entire country – one for Lok Sabha and assembly elections and another for panchayat and municipal elections. Accordingly, we also have two parallel electoral rolls. This situation was unavoidable immediately after the 73rd and 74th Amendment as the earlier delimitation could not have provided for this.
Now that we have the third tier, one of the principal challenges of the recent delimitation was to connect the two maps, just as the assembly and the Lok Sabha constituency maps are integrated. It required the Delimitation Commission to define the boundary of each assembly segment in terms of a group of panchayats or municipality wards. This is a matter of long term significance for political representation, for it would have ensured that panchayati raj functionaries could have a meaningful relationship to their MLAs. That could in turn create political incentives for pushing decentralization of political power.
There are good reasons to believe that the commission was aware of this challenge. Yet it is intriguing to see that the final order of the Delimitation Commission has persisted with the archaic practice of defining the assembly constituency in terms of revenue circle in one state, mandala or tehsil in another, and panchayat in yet another set of states. It is hard to believe that the commission found it difficult to muster the administrative support or the technical expertise to match the two set of boundaries. Clearly, the Delimitation Commission either found this question too trivial or too messy or allowed petty bureaucratic turf-wars to trump the larger requirements of democracy. A future historian of Indian democracy might find this decision of the first Delimitation Commission after the 73rd and 74th Amendment most inexplicable and disappointing.
As we come to terms and learn to live with the new delimitation, there is a danger that the infirmities of the new design might kickoff a blame-game. We get a glimpse of that in the manner in which the new delimitation order was discussed in the Lok Sabha, with more than one member wanting to blame the Delimitation Commission for some of the provisions which flow straight from the Delimitation Act passed by the Parliament. The commission may be pushed into a defensive mode, trying to pass on more than the due share of problems to the Parliament, the executive and functionaries like the Registrar General of Census. We are likely to lose sight of the big picture in this blame game.
If the reading suggested in this essay has any merit, some of the most serious flaws in the recent delimitation exercise flow not from the position that some of the key functionaries sitting in the Delimitation Commission or the Law Ministry or the Parliament happen to have taken, but from a paradigm that has come to dominate our thinking about designing and reforming politics in general and representation in particular. This is as true of the Delimitation Commission as it is of the Law Commission, the Election Commission of India or of ‘civil society’ initiatives for democratic reform for that matter. These flaws affect the delimitation exercise as much as they affect the unending debates about political reservation for women. In conclusion, therefore, it may be more appropriate to reflect on some of the inadequacies built into this paradigm of thinking about representation.19
First, much of the existing thinking is marked by reductionism, by a reduction of the issue of representation to the social attributes of the representatives. This understanding begins by identifying representation as one of the key aspects of democratic practice for it concerns the political agenda which shapes the outcome of democracy. Representation of issues obviously requires an agency. Hence, the focus shifts from representation to representatives, to the exclusion of other institutions and forces that are no less decisive in the selection of the issues that get represented.
The next step in this reduction is to link the representative to the electors, for what the elected representatives do is linked to the control exercised by the electors. This leads to a suggestion that the link between the electors and the elected is one of resemblance, that the representative must mirror the social attributes of the population they seek to represent. From this it is a short step to the final reduction of social attributes into caste or community of the representative.
A non-reductionist approach to representation cannot and must not overlook the caste or community profile of the representatives. One cannot simply understand, for example, the way the Left Front in West Bengal has dragged its feet on the identification of the OBCs and extension of any benefits to them, unless one cares to dig and arrive at the figures of the disproportionate presence of the top three upper castes among the MLAs and the ministers of the Left Front. A non-reductionist approach would require that the chain that connects the representatives to the electors be established in each case rather than assumed and that other institutions and causal factors be taken into account.
Second, the existing approach to representation is marked by a near-complete inattention to the specificities of the mechanisms and devices that frame representation. There is a substantial literature in the discipline of political science, hidden from political scientists and political commentators in India, on the political consequences of electoral and political rules and institutions including comparative analyses of delimitation exercise in several democracies. Much of the Indian discussion about political institutions, laws and reforms tends to dismiss the exact question of framing as if it were an inconsequential matter, a small detail that can sort itself out and which is best left to some technicians. Many of the proposals for political reform operate at the level of abstract normative concerns and often end up suggesting mechanisms which achieve the opposite of what was intended.
If this approach has landed the Delimitation Commission with a weak justification for the way it has decided the reserved (Scheduled Caste) constituencies for the Lok Sabha, the same inattention has led to a deeply flawed framing of the current Women’s Reservations Bill. Given the state of the discipline of political science in our country and its lack of connect to the democratic process, it may be an undeserved compliment to either blame the discipline for this cognitive failure or to expect it to lead a recovery. What is required here is nothing short of a new discipline that seeks to understand the relationship between law, institutions and the political processes in a non-western setting. We cannot hope to address pressing but complex issues like the under-representation of Muslims without this kind of body of knowledge.
Third, like much of the discussion on political reforms, the thinking on political representation is at best non-political and often anti-political, characterized by a deep suspicion of political actors and disregard for the necessary requirements of democratic political competition. A perspective ill at ease with democracy seeks to insulate an exercise like delimitation, or review of the Constitution for that matter, from questions of political theory and from a reading of the journey of Indian democracy. This approach seeks to protect the people against their representative, views any increase in the number of representatives as nothing but a burden on the exchequer and gets alarmed at the panchayati raj representatives developing linkages with the MLAs and MPs.
Perhaps some complaints of the MPs and MLAs who were Associate Members of the Delimitation Commission about not getting a fair deal may be linked to this suspicion of political actors. A disregard for democratic political competition may partially account for the indifference to questions like freeze in the share of seats for various states and the under-enfranchisement of the urban poor.
The problem with this approach or paradigm is not just that it is mistaken. We are dealing with something more than a simple cognitive error here. This error is linked to equations of power and the social origins of those who hold this anti-political view. The ensemble of economy of truth, social origins of partial but dominant knowledge, and its connection with structures of power has a classical name: ideology. Any attempt to make sense of political representation in contemporary India is thus an ideological enterprise, particularly so when it is not conscious of its own ideology.
1. Pratap Mehta’s The Burden of Democracy, Penguin, Delhi, 2003 is one of the few exceptions to this split. Niraja Jayal, Representing India, Macmillan, 2006 offers the most systematic and comprehensive evidence for under-standing the paradox. For another attempt to look at both sides of this paradox, see Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar ‘From Hegemony to Convergence: Party System and Electoral Politics in the Indian States, 1952-2002’,Journal of Indian Institute of Political Economy, XV (1&2), January-June 2003.
2. For an impressive collection of data and other information on the state of panchayati raj institutions, see The State of the Panchayats: A Mid-term Review and Appraisal, Vols 1-3, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, 2006.
3. For comprehensive figures on the changing social profile of Lok Sabha in terms of caste and religious background of elected MPs, see Niraja Jayal,Representing India. For a similar analysis of the social profile of MLAs, see Christophe Jaffrelot and Sanjay Kumar (eds.), Rise of the Plebeians: The Changing Face of the Indian Legislative Assembly, Routledge, Forthcoming. The entire data on the social profile of the MLAs will soon be put in the public domain by the CSDS-CSH-CERI.
4. See Ajoy Bose, Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati, Penguin/Viking, 2008 for an informative and fair account of Mayawati’s rise to power.
5. Christophe Jaffrelot’s India’s Silent Revolution, Permanent Black, 2003 is the most persuasive yet nuanced and empirically rich statement of this position.
6. For some evidence of anti-incumbency in India see Yogendra Yadav, ‘The Third Electoral System’, Seminar 480 (a symposium on the state of our polity and the political system), August 1999.
7. See SDSA Team, State of Democracy in South Asia, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2008, for evidence concerning popular opinions on economic policies in the five countries of South Asia including India.
8. For a sample of such readings see Subhash C. Kashyap et.al. (eds.),Reviewing the Constitution? Shipra, Delhi, 2000. This kind of reading is scattered across in the editorial contents of the English media.
9. In 2004 Kuldip Nayar and Inder Jit had filed a case challenging The Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2003 (No. 40 of 2003) which amended Section 3 of the Representation of People Act by substituting the words ‘in India’ in the place of ‘in that State or territory’ for purposes of eligibility for contesting for Rajya Sabha. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition in 2006.
10. The expression was used by the Bihar government for constituting a commission to look into the conditions of dalit communities that have not been able to take much advantage of reservations. This question has already come up with regard to sub-classification of SC quota for government jobs in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
11. The data in the report concerning the under-representation of Muslims in the parliament and state assemblies is based on the pioneering research by Iqbal A. Ansari in Political Representation of Muslims of India: 1952-2004, Manak, Delhi, 2006.
12. For a representative compilation of facts and views on this controversy, see Meena Dhanda (ed.), Reservations for Women, Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2008.
13. The declarations are now available on the Election Commission’s website and the various websites of the Chief Electoral Officers in each state. Various ‘Election Watch’ organisations have come up with quick analyses of these affidavits. ‘National Election Audit 1999’, a study carried out by the CSDS and sponsored by the Election Commission arrived at similar conclusions about the economic background of candidates.
14. These include the Dinesh Goswami Committee, and the Indrajit Gupta Committee reports.
15. See the report of the parliamentary committee on reservations in higher judiciary cited in Niraja Gopal Jayal, op.cit., 2006. The social profile of the media is one of the least explored areas of research. A pilot survey of the 315 top journalists/editors across 38 newspapers/news channels in the national capital found that not one of them was from SC/ST and less than 10 per cent were from OBC/Muslims. Data set created by Anil Chamaria, Jitendra Kumar and Yogendra Yadav, CSDS Data Unit.
16. Most of the following discussion is based on the information provided in the official website of the Delimitation Commission http://www.delimitation-india.org. I would like to thank Justice Kuldeep Singh and N. Gopalswamy, Chairman and Member respectively of the Delimitation Commission, for an opportunity to have an extended discussion about all the major issues discussed here at the Election Commission on 25 February 2008. I would also wish to acknowledge my gratitude to Professor K.C. Shivaramakrishnan, Chairman CPR and clearly the one person who has thought most deeply about the delimitation exercise. Extended discussions with him have taught me a great deal.
17. For a useful summary of delimitation exercise in many democracies, see www. aceproject.org
18. Alistair McMillan analysed the implications of this freeze and made a very strong case for lifting it. See ‘Population Change and the Democratic Structure’, Seminar 506, October 2001.
19. Some of the following points are drawn from Yogendra Yadav ‘A Radical Agenda for Political Reforms’ Seminar506 (Reforming Politics), October 2001.