The post-election push for simultaneous elections has again put forward the debate of populism vis-a-vis equal electoral ground for national and regional parties. However, this debate of simultaneous elections seems to be overshadowing another more critical debate of giving equal electoral weight to all votes.
While, the delimitation exercise to rationalise representation at all electoral levels is due in 2026, the grounds for the delimitation exercise need to be debated prior to setting up of the delimitation committee. In addition, the process needs to be also looked into from the intended objective of representational equity and equality.
The recently concluded general elections showed that currently, large constituencies like North-west Delhi or Ghaziabad have a voter base upward of twenty lakh whereas, the smaller ones like Lakshadweep and, Daman and Diu have less than two lakh voters. Though absolute rationalisation won’t be possible and is not even expected, it should not lead to a sense of undue political marginalisation.
A more scientific exercise will ensure our democracy’s ability to provide freedom towards choice making, not to miss each vote having equal value while electing MPs or MLAs for decision-making. Every incoming civilization thinks of itself as the one having better procedural and cognitive justice in its hierarchical system; the two founding principles of our civilizations in this regard have been ‘equality’ and ‘freedom,’ reflected through vote-based choice making and general elections every five years.
They can be easily termed as underpinnings of our civic superiority against our ancestors. Therefore, equal voter weight at constituency level for equal democratic representation forms the very foundation of modern-day democratic civilizations. It can be easily said that the concept of equality for a welfare state starts from equality in terms of voting rights to influence democratic choices and spreads across all other spheres of a citizen’s life.
Access to this unidimensional equality facilitates sustenance of equality and freedom across generations, thereby establishing a successful modern democratic welfare state in the long-term. The virtuous cycle thus makes the ‘equality of voter weights’ as the inception point towards all thing considered democratic and fair, making the overall reallocation and delimitation of state and general election constituencies one of the most important exercises for functioning of a democratic state.
Frozen in 2003, this restructuring of electoral constituencies is planned to be taken upon under the aegis of the delimitation commission around 2026. While restructuring of constituencies is eventual, there is no denying that doing so merely on the basis of population would be unequivocally unfair and might further escalate the inter-state divide. Though there have been gains as well as losses of seats for states in past delimitation exercises, delimitation complexities amidst contemporary politico-economic growth and welfare pressures are unquestionably exponential in nature.
In this regard, dominant rhetoric of population as the only basis might not be the right methodology. A long-term logical approach needs to be adopted, which not only looks at the current and past status of various indicators, but charts a strategic path allowing the delimitation to not just become an electoral exercise but a tool which incentivises the states as well as their governments to perform on various benchmarks and indicators between delimitation exercises.
The approach adopted by the 14th Finance Commission in allocation of funds is noteworthy in this regard, where it allocated only 25 per cent of the overall weight to population, while factors like ‘area’, ‘past fiscal discipline’ and indicators like ‘per capita income’ were also brought within the equation. However, such an approach would require the government to pass constitutional amendments in Article 81 (composition of Lok Sabha), and therefore would require more pragmatism than imagined.
While there is no denying the fact that poor and backward votes should matter, performing poorly on development indicators should also equally matter. Therefore, reducing or controlling population as well as improving average income or literacy should be brought within the ambit of the delimitation exercise. Hence, a more judicious approach in this regard should be adopted. This can be achieved either by adopting a multi-variable approach, or if only demographic aspect is to be considered then multiple parameters or indicators of demographic aspects should be applied.
If population base is to be adopted as the dominant or only measure, then infant mortality rate, birth rate, sex-ratio, maternal mortality and life expectancy should also be brought within the equation for state-wise reallocation of parliamentary constituencies. A methodology like this one will not only work towards a more rationalised allocation but will also push the states and their governments to work towards continuous betterment of citizen quality of life.
Outlining such a methodology and informing the states well in advance will also give them adequate time, will reduce friction and the rhetoric of unfairness, while having one more reason for them to achieve the quantified welfare goals, thereby gaining more say in policy formulation and monetary allocation. Overall, the exercise needs to be seen as a catalyst towards achieving equity and equality in the long run.
The policy and the delimitation exercise need be based on the principle that equality is nothing but ‘absolute equity’ and to think of achieving it for one and a half billion people is a modern-day superstition. However, to provide equality in fragmented aspects of a citizen’s life is somewhat achievable. As a more rational approach, this is what all our governments have been trying to achieve post-independence.
And hence, the delimitation exercise should not be considered as just another exercise, taken up once in two or three decades, but as the insemination point towards our goal of having distributive justice, bringing more equity towards in perpetual tryst for equality.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, OP Jindal Global University)