On 28th February, 2020, Union Ministry of Law and Justice issued an Order to ‘readjust the division’ of State Assembly and Lok Sabha boundaries in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, the States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland-with 2001 Census as the base year-although the cacophonic resistance everywhere is for 2011 Census.
A week later, the same Ministry announced the formation of a Delimitation Commission-with Justice (Retd.) Ranjana Prakash Desai chairing the three-member commission, for a period of one year.
Then came Coronavirus.
At the fag-end of Lockdown 4.0-May 2020-the Delimitation Commissioner orders all Chief Electoral Officers to start preparing maps and statistical data.
Delimitation formula is simply the ratio of seats and population. Mandated by Constitution (Article 82)- delimitation with incremental seats takes place every decade-in consonance with decadal publication of Census figures. But, so far, only three regular-calendar exercises have taken place. Delimitation with seat mutationtook place last with 1971 Census.
In 1976, the 42nd Amendment Act put a complete ban on increasing Lok Sabha or State Legislative Assembly seats for a moratorium period of 24 years. In 2001, the due year, when Provisional Census was published, the Parliament further extended the freeze on seat mutation till the first Census after 2026-through the 84th Amendment Act. Increasing electoral seats for Indian Parliament and State Legislatures now awaits 2031 Census. By then, a study estimates, three states-Bihar, West Bengal and UP-will populate 33% of the total Lok Sabha seats. Representing the present 1.2 billion India is a huge task. A 1000 Lok Sabha seats-up from the present 543-is what Pranab Mukherjee, former President, called for, last December, while delivering the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture.
The current delimitation exercise is presentlylimited to redrawing of existing constituency boundaries-Lok Sabha and State Legislature. Necessitated by the need to redistribute the electorates evenly, territories will now change hands. Political & power equations, too, will change. The image is brutal-but the idea is justice: proportional representation.
In the fiefdom of political landlords, colossal electorate is bad news. In the life of political parties, more is however good. Some districts in Nagaland will now lose some Assembly seats.
Why was delimitation deferred in some select areas-when a nation-wide exercise was completed between July 2002 to May 2008? Why is there a new urgency, when preparations for 2021 Census is already underway? Or, when a solution is at the threshold?
The February 2020 notified zones are no ordinary places. They are the most heavily militarized areas in India. Fearing social repercussions and security situations, the government had earlier excluded these regions. The sudden announcement quotes an improvement in law & order-and reduction in insurgency incidents. Yet, on 30th June, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs reextended Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, in Nagaland, for another six months-a martial law engaged only when threat is at its highest risk.
Fear as politics indeed has multiple perceptions! Timing is a normal suspect-for any ruling government-for the earlier excuse of not holding delimitation is clearly not a security issue. It never was.
Fifteen years ago, the Lotus was nowhere visible in these parts of the country. Today, it is blooming everywhere! What better times-if not now?
In August 2019, an Act of Parliament morphed the State of J&K into a Union Territory-abrogating Article 370 and subtracting Ladakh region. Anything ‘special’ was shredded-now administered by a Lieutenant-Governor. Recall March 2015-BJP’s first-ever government in J&K, formed with PDP partners. The alliance collapsed in June 2018-which was followed by President’s Rule and dissolution of Assembly in November. The current delimitation aspires to increase the political clout of majority-Hindu Jammu region-long held by Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Surely, BJP as a party, stands to profit.
Likewise, BJP’s ascendency in Assam in May 2016 is sheer blitzkrieg. It not only formed the government for the first time-but convincingly won with absolute majority. In Manipur, a BJP Chief Minister now heads a coalition government-since February 2017 assembly elections. Arunachal Pradesh-on a cold evening in December 2016, the government was repainted saffron soon after Pema Khandu dramatically switched parties to BJP to become Chief Minister.
How the delimitation drill will reconfigurate BJP’s presence in these States nonetheless will remain more of a matter of result rather than speculation! What is however clear is-the party is now in a position to unravel the dynamics of the most complex socio-political regions in the country.
As for Nagaland, BJP has been a toddler partner in the government since 2003-under the protective groom of NPF. Fifteen years later, in the February 2018 polls, the strategy paid off-and BJP secured more seats and a better deal after its tie-up with a new regional party NDPP-giving them a Deputy Chief Minister. With delimitation at the doorstep, whether the party will gain from the exercise, or whether it will wreck the district of the present BJP leadership is everybody’s guess now?
Anxieties in Nagaland however is a lot more than conjecturing BJP’s fortune. It is everyone for himself-from Constituency to District to Tribe-in real life. And, 2001 Census appears to have numbed this reality talk as the perfect scapegoat.
At 64.41% decadal growth rate, which is 12,00,546 persons (1991) to 19,90,036 persons (2001), policy makers and social leaders were not impressed with census inflation of some particular districts. Amidst such perplexes, 2011 Census saw a decline in Nagaland population by 11,534 persons-registering a never-ever-heard-of-in-India-population-decrease growth rate of -0.58%. It only intensified the hollering that 2001 Census is fallacious, malicious, and mischievous. The Chakhesang Public Organization and the Joint Action Committee on Delimitation have been filing Writ Petitions in this regard.
Litigating to stop the application of Delimitation Act in Nagaland is a huge battle cry! Praying for the Court to decide whether to use 2001 or 2011 Census is another faith! Or, trigger-pulling the gunnery of Article 371(A) to read-my-lips sense of entitlements-are not impossible spectacles, at all.
In 1992, similar war cries were soundedby the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF)over the abnormal growth pattern of electorates since 1963. Xenophobic goosebumps of outsiders becoming the State’s population were reiterated-citing abuse of Inner line Permit, the lax criteria for determining non-indigenous persons, and the proverbial ‘special’ Article 371(A). The hullabaloo almost came to a standstill when, in a rare of rarest case, the Ministry of Home Affairs shot a direct letter to NSF-No. 14/1/92 NE II, dated New Delhi, 18.05.1992-requesting the petitioner to identify names of all foreign nationals in the electoral roll.
As of today, all the sixty Nagaland Legislative Assembly seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Recall 1964-the first post-Statehood election-the entire Assembly seats of Dimapur and Ghaspani were won by non-Nagas. The fear of the outsider is as old as the politics of power and domination. Opposing 2001 Census is premised on a crude logic-that the reproductive biology of Naga parents has been desecrated by enfranchising the wombs of illegal migrants. Even the most primal animal, one should remember, increase its populace only when there is loving cradle.
For, 2011 Census is no saviour statistics either. Of the total population of Nagaland, the combined non-Christian population stands at-Hindus (8.75%), Muslim (2.47%), Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, etc. (0.57%) and, others (0.28%). By simply deducing that all Christians registered in the Nagaland Census may not be necessarily all Nagas and, also, taking into account that it is highly improbable that a decent size of Naga population may have registered as non-Christian-we can still speculate that 2,38,851 persons (12.07% of total population) in the 2011 Census are still non-Nagas. The delimitation formula translates this into an average of seven Assembly seats.
What matters-therefore-is whether a legal recourse is pursued to ensure census integrity? Or, whether angry pitches have any democratic harmony? Or, are we confronting a constitutional process that has to come to full circle? Or, most importantly, are we motivated because a particular district or a particular community stands to lose some assembly seats from the present arrangement?
Democracy, unfortunately, always ensures the majority as the winner. No second prize exists in electoral politics. Fortunately, the test of democracy relies on checking the conqueror takes it all might. A strong opposition is pivotal for a mature democracy.
As tribal head-hunter graduates, the inheritance of democratic ethos is definitely a little discomforting. It is still difficult to blind our eyes-while judging the costs of benefits. Manufacturing fear is still immutably woven to a politics of majority and minority. Delimitation exercise will dilute many equations. Some districts or some tribes will have to let it go. Aliens certainly cannot have constitutional rights and it is our right to identify and our job to act rather than complain. Other than rants of outsiders, the majesty of delimitation will remain in how we face and deal with tribalism once again.
Today, we are misled if we still think that the foundation of democracy is built on the power of lying statistics, or cheap proxy votes. In democracy, the potential of leadership is purely dependent on electorates. The magical charm of provincial clannism or suburbia khelism or centric tribalism is not sustainable to prepare a future for our people. Overcoming the status-quo of tribal righteousness will be our biggest challenge. The eloquence of Census Politics definitely resembles a pathological refusal to accept that change is the only constant in life.
[Kekhrie Yhome is a professor, politician, and philosopher. Views ventilated here do not mirror the outlook of any political party.]