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'A Sword Hanging Over Us…': Why Are Southern States Opposed to Delimitation?

The southern states argue that delimitation would severely affect their political representation in the Lower House.

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Nearly three decades after it was first tabled in Parliament, the Women's Reservation Bill was finally passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha this week – but with a catch. The bill "shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken" following a census, which is likely to take place only after 2026.

The delimitation of parliamentary seats has been imminent for a while now, but it is not without opposition.

The states in the southern part of India contend that the delimitation exercise would severely affect their political representation in the Lower House – and at the centre of this argument is the issue of population control.

States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have long argued that a rejig of the number of seats would benefit the more populous states in northern India, and in turn, put the southern states at a disadvantage in Parliament – solely because they were successful in controlling population growth.

Even as he welcomed the Women's Reservation Bill, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin termed the imminent delimitation exercise a "Damocles sword hanging over the heads of South Indian states" and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that their political representation would not be harmed.

So, why exactly is delimitation necessary? How will it affect the South Indian states? Is there a way forward? The Quint explains.

'A Sword Hanging Over Us…': Why Are Southern States Opposed to Delimitation?

  1. 1. The Question of Population

    "Delimitation is nothing but figuring out how many people should be there in a constituency – or rather, how many people should one person represent," says activist and political commentator Tara Krishnaswamy.

    It is essentially done to ensure that the seats in the Lok Sabha are allocated to the states in proportion to their populations – or in other words, to make sure that each person's vote has the same value, irrespective of the state they are in ('One Person, One Vote').

    Though proportional representation in the Lok Sabha is enshrined in Article 81 of the Constitution, the last time the states' share of seats in the House was updated was in 1976, based on the 1971 census. And the number of seats has been frozen since then. Why?

    In 1976, the Indira Gandhi government halted delimitation until 2001 because of resistance from states with a lower population. The suspension was meant to give time to states with a higher population to enforce family planning and control their Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – and the idea was to not punish states with lower TFR for exactly that.

    However, the delimitation exercise was further deferred to 2026 via an amendment as the population divide persisted.

    "This is a genuine quandary in a large and developing democracy like India; it is not a politically created problem. All democracies have had this problem of uneven human development. The larger the country, the more difficult it is to pull off even human development," explains Krishnaswamy.

    "Anytime we have uneven human development, we end up with uneven population and uneven density of population. That is what happened in India. India is diverse and governed by a diverse set of parties as well – and their governance choices are completely different. So, we have ended up with gross disparities in human development, and therefore, uneven fertility rates."

    So, what has happened over time is that the southern states have ended up with fertility rates that are comparable to Western European countries, whereas the northern states have fertility rates that are much higher, she adds.

    Opposing delimitation, Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader and Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao recently urged all southern states to stand united against the proposal. He added:

    "The southern states, which account for just 18 percent of the country's population, contribute 35 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These progressive states contributing to the nation's economy and development should not be ignored and put at a disadvantage."
    Expand
  2. 2. The Consequences of Delimitation

    "The principle of 'One Person, One Vote' is central to a democracy, but when you do it in a federal system, you will have to balance it. Otherwise, there is going to be a serious political issue," opines Supreme Court lawyer Shadan Farasat.

    He explains that "when there are stark differences in population growth between different federal entities and then you delimit them, it effectively shifts political power from one group to the other."

    As per a 2019 report titled 'India's Emerging Crisis of Representation', states with a lower population are currently overrepresented in the Lok Sabha – and if they were to be delimited after 2026, they stand to lose several seats.

    The southern states argue that delimitation would severely affect their political representation in the Lower House.

    The number of proportional seats has been derived using data from the 2011 Census.

    (Photo: Chetan Bhakuni/The Quint)

    According to the study, after 2026, "Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone stand to gain 21 seats while Kerala and Tamil Nadu would forfeit as many as 16."

    But there is another hidden consequence of delimitation, and that is the change in number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates in the Lok Sabha.

    "The number of SC- and ST-reserved seats is determined on a state-by-state basis: the share of each state's seats reserved for SC and ST candidates must match those communities' share of the overall state population," the study says.

    As the TFR among SC and ST communities in the southern states will have also come down, their numbers would also effectively change in the Lok Sabha, explains Krisnaswamy.

    Expand
  3. 3. Is There a Way Forward?

    "It is understandable that South Indian states are feeling like they are being punished – because their governance choices, schemes, laws, and programmes have been focusing on human development. They have incentivised population control. Their higher education rates among women have helped decrease fertility rates," opines Krishnaswamy.

    But there is no two ways to go about the 'One Person, One Vote' principle, so there needs to be a balance, she adds.

    What are some of the ways in which this balance could be struck?

    • "As the Lok Sabha seats are mandatorily based on population, in the Rajya Sabha, there could be a more balanced distribution of seats, which would adequately represent the southern states or states with low TFR," Krishnaswamy suggests.

    • "Another way would be to make sure that the Prime Minister post is rotated across the north and south. If you look at the history of India, we repeatedly seem to have prime ministers from the north, barring PV Narasimha Rao and HD Deve Gowda. That is actually a huge penalty because the fact is that even the cultural background of the PM is alien to South India," she points out.

    • Advocate Farasat, however, suggests that the delimitation be deferred until the northern states have successfully controlled their population growth. He opines: "The 'One Person, One Vote' principle has to be balanced with federal principles. And that balance is being met currently and it should be continued beyond 2026."

    Governmental sources, meanwhile, have said that the Centre would ensure that the southern states do not suffer due to delimitation, as per an NDTV report. However, how it plans to achieve this feat is still not clear.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Question of Population

"Delimitation is nothing but figuring out how many people should be there in a constituency – or rather, how many people should one person represent," says activist and political commentator Tara Krishnaswamy.

It is essentially done to ensure that the seats in the Lok Sabha are allocated to the states in proportion to their populations – or in other words, to make sure that each person's vote has the same value, irrespective of the state they are in ('One Person, One Vote').

Though proportional representation in the Lok Sabha is enshrined in Article 81 of the Constitution, the last time the states' share of seats in the House was updated was in 1976, based on the 1971 census. And the number of seats has been frozen since then. Why?

In 1976, the Indira Gandhi government halted delimitation until 2001 because of resistance from states with a lower population. The suspension was meant to give time to states with a higher population to enforce family planning and control their Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – and the idea was to not punish states with lower TFR for exactly that.

However, the delimitation exercise was further deferred to 2026 via an amendment as the population divide persisted.

"This is a genuine quandary in a large and developing democracy like India; it is not a politically created problem. All democracies have had this problem of uneven human development. The larger the country, the more difficult it is to pull off even human development," explains Krishnaswamy.

"Anytime we have uneven human development, we end up with uneven population and uneven density of population. That is what happened in India. India is diverse and governed by a diverse set of parties as well – and their governance choices are completely different. So, we have ended up with gross disparities in human development, and therefore, uneven fertility rates."

So, what has happened over time is that the southern states have ended up with fertility rates that are comparable to Western European countries, whereas the northern states have fertility rates that are much higher, she adds.

Opposing delimitation, Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader and Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao recently urged all southern states to stand united against the proposal. He added:

"The southern states, which account for just 18 percent of the country's population, contribute 35 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These progressive states contributing to the nation's economy and development should not be ignored and put at a disadvantage."
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The Consequences of Delimitation

"The principle of 'One Person, One Vote' is central to a democracy, but when you do it in a federal system, you will have to balance it. Otherwise, there is going to be a serious political issue," opines Supreme Court lawyer Shadan Farasat.

He explains that "when there are stark differences in population growth between different federal entities and then you delimit them, it effectively shifts political power from one group to the other."

As per a 2019 report titled 'India's Emerging Crisis of Representation', states with a lower population are currently overrepresented in the Lok Sabha – and if they were to be delimited after 2026, they stand to lose several seats.

The southern states argue that delimitation would severely affect their political representation in the Lower House.

The number of proportional seats has been derived using data from the 2011 Census.

(Photo: Chetan Bhakuni/The Quint)

According to the study, after 2026, "Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone stand to gain 21 seats while Kerala and Tamil Nadu would forfeit as many as 16."

But there is another hidden consequence of delimitation, and that is the change in number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates in the Lok Sabha.

"The number of SC- and ST-reserved seats is determined on a state-by-state basis: the share of each state's seats reserved for SC and ST candidates must match those communities' share of the overall state population," the study says.

As the TFR among SC and ST communities in the southern states will have also come down, their numbers would also effectively change in the Lok Sabha, explains Krisnaswamy.

0

Is There a Way Forward?

"It is understandable that South Indian states are feeling like they are being punished – because their governance choices, schemes, laws, and programmes have been focusing on human development. They have incentivised population control. Their higher education rates among women have helped decrease fertility rates," opines Krishnaswamy.

But there is no two ways to go about the 'One Person, One Vote' principle, so there needs to be a balance, she adds.

What are some of the ways in which this balance could be struck?

  • "As the Lok Sabha seats are mandatorily based on population, in the Rajya Sabha, there could be a more balanced distribution of seats, which would adequately represent the southern states or states with low TFR," Krishnaswamy suggests.

  • "Another way would be to make sure that the Prime Minister post is rotated across the north and south. If you look at the history of India, we repeatedly seem to have prime ministers from the north, barring PV Narasimha Rao and HD Deve Gowda. That is actually a huge penalty because the fact is that even the cultural background of the PM is alien to South India," she points out.

  • Advocate Farasat, however, suggests that the delimitation be deferred until the northern states have successfully controlled their population growth. He opines: "The 'One Person, One Vote' principle has to be balanced with federal principles. And that balance is being met currently and it should be continued beyond 2026."

Governmental sources, meanwhile, have said that the Centre would ensure that the southern states do not suffer due to delimitation, as per an NDTV report. However, how it plans to achieve this feat is still not clear.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Census   Population   delimitation 

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