The Election Commission of India (ECI), on Tuesday, 20 June, released a draft of the proposed delimitation for Assam's 126 assembly seats and 14 Lok Sabha seats, which has angered many in the state's Barak Valley.
The three districts of Barak Valley – Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi – had 15 assembly constituencies till 2021 elections but the new draft reduces the number to 13. Apart from demographic changes, the names of a few constituencies will also be changed as per the proposal.
Assam minister Parimal Suklabaidya, who represents the Dholai constituency, said that the name of his constituency will be changed to Narsinghpur if the draft comes into force.
"I represent the people of my constituency and most of them are unhappy with the name change and demographic reshuffle. As a citizen, I am also not happy and we will place our opinion before the state government," he said.
Mahitosh Das, a young BJP leader from Dholai said that they won't accept the name change at any cost. "One part of this area has been attached with Borkhola constituency, which is more than 40 kilometre away. This is not acceptable," he said.
Senior advocate and former member judge of the Foreigners Tribunal in Silchar, Dharmananda Deb, claimed that this delimitation draft will increase gaps between the elected representatives and common people.
He said that the ECI is following 2001 Population Census for the delimitation. The population in Assam in 2001 was 2.66 crore, which has naturally increased in the last two decades.
"In 1976 delimitation, Barak Valley had 14 seats, which later increased to 15. Four decades later, the ECI is reducing seats which is unscientific. This will reduce representation of people in the state assembly, which is not good for democracy."– Dharmananda Deb
Proposal Includes Making Silchar a Reserved Seat
Apart from reducing the number of assembly seats in the Barak Valley, the ECI has proposed to reserve the Silchar Lok Sabha seat for the Scheduled Castes and has proposed to make the Karimganj seat a general seat, which was an SC reserved seat since Independence.
Haobam Debashis Singha, a social worker, said that if the ECI wants to open the Karimganj seat, why did they not declare any other seat as SC-reserved in Assam? "Why would the Barak Valley have a reserved seat always?" He wrote on social media.
Silchar-based social activist Mohitosh Paul (Ashu) said that this is a systematic plan to make the Hindu voters as deciding factor in all the constituencies.
"In Silchar, we had Muslim winners like Nurul Huda and Rashida Haque in the past and if they declare this seat SC reserved, no Muslim candidate will be able to contest here in the future," Paul said.
According to him, this is also a conspiracy to reduce representation of Bengali-dominated Barak Valley in the Assam assembly.
"As a citizen, I'd like to ask the ECI, what was the method you followed? Show the basis of framing this draft and reason behind reducing seats in the Barak Valley," he said.
Multiple Parties Oppose ECI Proposal
Rajya Sabha MP and former MP from Silchar, Sushmita Dev said that the ECI followed section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 while drafting the proposal, which allows them to reshuffle but they cannot increase seats.
"The BJP opposed delimitation in 2008, saying that without the NRC they won't support it but now they are supporting the draft. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma lied about deletion of his constituency. I'd say, you can fool some people sometimes but not all the people all the times."– Sushmita Dev
In the draft, the ECI has proposed reducing assembly seats of Hailakandi from three to two. The Katlicherra constituency will be removed if the proposed draft gets finalised. Algapur MLA, Sujam Uddin Laskar, from AIUDF, said that he'll move to Guwahati High Court against this decision.
"They didn't involve us in the committee and without hearing our voice, they decided to delete an entire constituency. This is undemocratic and we will appeal to the court against it," he said.
The BJP's veteran leader and a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said that this is like an act of Cyril Radcliffe of the British Government. "The BJP in Assam started its journey in the Barak Valley and the present leaders in Guwahati were in other parties when we were building the base for the BJP. Now they are reducing seats in the Barak Valley without people's consent here," he said.
He claimed that the BJP has failed to protect Hindus in Assam and now they are taking decisions which will reduce the voice of Hindus. "They failed to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which could protect the victims of partition. More than 14 lakh Hindus were excluded from the NRC and the state leadership is not even bothered about it," he added.
He said that the Karimganj seat should remain SC reserved because it shares border with Bangladesh and there will be security issues if it becomes open.
The Barak Valley-based newly formed political party, Barak Democratic Front (BDF), has threatened to call for a bandh in three districts against the ECI's decision. BDF founder Pradip Dutta Roy said, "This is an undemocratic decision and we will protest against it in a democratic manner."
The BJP's Cachar district unit on Thursday organised an internal meeting where several members of the party expressed dissatisfaction over the ECI's decision. Silchar MLA, Dipayan Chakraborty, said that they are going to express their views before the state committee and they are optimistic that some decisions will be rectified.
Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy said, "Obviously we'll go with the decisions of the party but at the same time, we'll express our views."
After the meeting, when the media asked him about his views, Roy only chanted "Jai Shri Ram."
Assam Congress's working president, Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, said that this is a conspiracy against the people of Barak Valley and also against a particular community.
"This is going to be remembered as a dark history for Barak Valley. I want to ask the leaders if rulling party, how much do you need to compromise to please your leaders?"– Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha
Thousands of the netizens in Barak Valley are posting against delimitation. Sujit Roy, son of the president of BJP's Cachar committee said that he is ready to shed blood to stop this delimitation. "For the sake of Bengalis in the Barak Valley, let us unite and raise a strong voice. We have to stop this process and if required, I am ready to shed blood," he wrote on social media.