June 29, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Assam’s delimitation draft is fair to its people. We also look at the recommendation for job reservations for orphans in Kerala, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is Assam’s delimitation draft fair to its people?
The process of redrawing the boundaries of constituencies is always tricky and controversial. It has to be done very carefully, and seldom are they done in a way where everyone is happy. Given the demographic spread in some states, it’s a tightrope walk for officials to ensure fairness.
The latest state to go through this exercise is Assam. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has its task cut out. The release of the draft delimitation for the state’s 126 assembly seats and 14 Lok Sabha seats has caused quite an uproar. For the ruling BJP government, it’s a way to safeguard the state in a way that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the 1985 Assam Accords didn’t. The opposition has cried foul citing unfair boundaries.
Delimitation involves redrawing boundaries or constituencies to ensure fair representation of all the people. Ideally, an independent commission performs this every few years based on the latest Census under the provisions of the Delimitation Commission Act.
Delimitation panels were established in 1952, 1962, and 1972. However, it was suspended in 1976 due to family planning programmes. The last time a commission was set up was in 2002. Before its work could be completed in 2008, security risks for Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland deferred the process. The same was cited for Jammu & Kashmir.
Apart from law and order issues, various organisations and the BJP didn’t want the process in 2008 to go ahead since they wanted to weed out “illegal immigrants”.
Assam’s politics are complicated in some sense, partly due to social divisions between the Assamese and Bengali languages, tribal and non-tribal groups, and the tea plantations and reserve forest areas, among others. There is also a staggering level of spatial segregation between communities.
Since the BJP came to power in 2016, some of these social divisions have flattened electorally to a single Hindu-Muslim path. This could be consequential since one part of the state has a high concentration of Muslims and other parts don’t. If you’re the BJP, this is how you’d want it. It’s similar to Jammu & Kashmir. The BJP dominates in Jammu and does poorly in Kashmir. That delimitation process certainly wasn’t free of controversy.
Since 2016, polarisation and regional differences in the Hindu-Muslim populations have resulted in relatively uncompetitive elections. Take 2016 as an example. The BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) won 74 assembly constituencies (ACs). In the 2019 general elections, they led in 78 ACs. Coming to Congress, they and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) were ahead in 39 and 38 seats in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
The average margin of victory in 2019 at the constituency level was 23%. Only 18 of the 126 of the state’s constituencies had a margin of victory below 5%. The results for the 2021 elections were similar, with the average margin of victory being 19%. This showed that even a relatively moderate change in support didn’t affect the outcome.
In March 2020, the Centre reconstituted the Delimitation Commission for four northeastern states and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Since delimitation involves constituencies and populations, the latest census is the base. The latest available census data is from 2011 since the 2021 census didn’t happen due to the pandemic. However, for the current process in Assam, it’s the 2001 census data that’s the base.
As 2022 began, the ECI started the delimitation process for Assam and recently released its draft proposal. The draft stated that 24 assembly constituencies have been reshaped, and the number of reserved seats has increased to 28. While the BJP has welcomed the new proposal, the opposition says it’s biased towards the ruling party and marginalises Muslims.
VIEW: It’s all good
After the draft proposal was released, the BJP was quick to point out why it was a good thing for the state. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the proposal’s contents will protect the state’s indigenous population. He pointed out that while some are unhappy at losing seats, the bigger picture was more important. For instance, the three added seats in the Bodo Territorial Region were welcomed by the All Bodo Students’ Union. It could help temper the demand for a separate Bodoland.
Last month, 11 opposition parties submitted their concerns about the process to Assam’s Chief Electoral Officer. Several, if not all, which include the RJD, Congress, and the TMC, rely on Muslim voters. The delimitation looks to address the fact that Muslim voters are a demographic anomaly. There’s no anti-incumbency sentiment in the state. It seems the opposition is looking for legal loopholes in the delimitation process. They’re stuck deciding between prioritising their vote bank or appealing to a broad swath of voters.
While some have questioned the constitutionality of the exercise, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar put any doubts to rest earlier this year. In the current scenario, the pertinent law is Section 8A of The Representation of the People Act of 1950, which refers to the Delimitation Act of 2002, which uses the 2001 census data as the base.
COUNTERVIEW: Flawed on multiple fronts
Several groups and parties are unhappy with the ECI’s draft. Among them is the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). MLA Aminul Islam blamed the UPA government for amending relevant acts in 2008, resulting in the ECI doing the delimitation exercise and not the Delimitation Commission. He also alleged the number of Muslim-majority constituencies would decrease by 8-9 seats. Some speculate that the action will truncate the number of Muslim legislators in the state.
There’s some truth to this, particularly for Bengali-speaking Muslims. Redrawing the boundaries will allow the ECI to split the Muslim vote base within Muslim-majority districts. It means that the Muslim vote won’t be a deciding factor for many constituencies anymore. In Muslim-majority Barpeta, for example, the draft recommends reducing the number of seats to six from eight. There’s also no official data on the Muslim population by ethnicity. Local estimates show Bengali-origin Muslims at about 75% of the Muslim population.
The ECI guidelines state that, as much as possible, sub-divisions and tehsils wouldn’t be broken. However, that hasn’t panned out. For example, the Haldia Gaon panchayat has ten villages in the Jania constituency. It’ll now be divided into three constituencies. Coming to the indigenous population, take the Khilonjias, for example. The name popularly refers to all residents except Bengali-origin Muslims and Hindus. There’s a fear among them that their political influence will dwindle due to the influx of Bangladeshis. The BJP uses this fear to drive its political narrative.
- Explained: EC Begins Delimitation Process In Assam, What Is It And Why Is It Needed? – Outlook
- Why delimitation in Assam is important – CPR
- What is the new delimitation exercise by Assam? – The Hindu
- In 1st Assam delimitation since 1976, EC faces NRC challenge, claims of exercise being ‘politically motivated’ – The Print
- Proposed Assam delimitation may affect electoral fortunes of leaders – Hindustan Times
- Delimitation dynamics: Assam electoral landscape shifts as BJP’s poll bugle puts Opposition parties in a fix – Firstpost
- Why Assam delimitation has sparked fears amid politics of the ‘indigenous’ – Newslaundry
- Why the Election Commission’s Assam delimitation proposal is being seen as communal – Scroll
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Assam’s delimitation draft is fair.
b) Assam’s delimitation draft is unfair.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
India’s wolf diplomacy against United States is backfiring
For the Left:
AAP-Congress rivalry upsetting Opposition unity plans
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Shrine tourism (Jammu and Kashmir) – The Union Territory administration plans to promote shrine tourism to attract devotees from all over India. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha expressed the idea of visiting revered shrines like Hazratbal and Charar-e-Sharief in the Valley, similar to the Amarnath Yatra. He awaits the approval of the BJP minister and J&K Waqf Board chairperson Darakhshan Andrabi.
Why it matters: The L-G emphasised the importance of communal harmony and unity during the festival of Id-ul-Azha. He pointed to celebrating all festivals, regardless of personal religious affiliation, as a cornerstone of the Indian civilisation. He called on religious leaders, community elders, and stakeholders to unite against those attempting to disrupt peace and development for personal gain.
2% job reservation for orphans (Kerala) – The Kerala State Commission for Backward Classes, led by former judge G Sasidharan, has recommended a 2% employment reservation in the Kerala government service for orphans and destitute children. The reservation will be implemented as a quota within the existing reservation system, ensuring it does not exceed the 50% limit. Preference will be given to Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), or Other Backward Communities (OBC) orphans within their respective reservation quotas. Orphans with unknown caste details and those in the general category will receive a 2% reservation under the general category.
Why it matters: The creamy layer principle, which excludes affluent families from caste reservation based on income and other factors, will not apply to destitute and orphaned children. Certificates for orphans will be issued by designated government officers, preferably from the Revenue Department, based on Child Welfare Committee certificates and discreet inquiries.
AIMPLB opposes UCC (Lucknow) – Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endorsement of nationwide implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) promptly convened an emergency online meeting. During the meeting, attended by prominent AIMPLB members, the Islamic personal law body decided to oppose the proposed law. The AIMPLB agreed to present its opposition more effectively before the Law Commission and finalised the documents to be submitted.
Why it matters: The UCC aims to establish a uniform set of personal laws for all Indian citizens, regardless of their religion, caste, or creed. Maulana Khalid argued that the UCC is always politicised before elections. Such a code would impact Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Jews, Parsis, and other minority groups in India. He stressed the importance of the constitutional freedom to practice one’s faith and way of life.
Surrendering Indian citizenship (Goa) – From 2011 to 2022, around 70,000 Indians voluntarily surrendered their passports at regional passport offices (RPOs) nationwide. Goa had the highest number of surrendered passports at 40.45%, followed by Punjab. It’s worth noting that these figures represent only a slim portion of the total number of Indian citizens who renounced their citizenship during the same period, which exceeded 16.21 lakh individuals.
Why it matters: Under the Indian Citizenship Act, Persons of Indian Origin aren’t permitted dual citizenship. If someone holds an Indian passport and obtains another country’s passport, they must surrender their Indian passport. Goa consistently leads in surrendered passports. One reason could be that Portugal offers citizenship options for Goans pre-1961, granting visa-free travel to the UK and EU.
Eligibility for state government jobs (Meghalaya) – On Tuesday, the Cabinet amended the Office Memorandum on Reservation Policy and Reservation Roster. Errors from previous memos, such as the one issued in 1972 regarding vacancies for STs and SCs, were rectified. The cabinet modified the 1974 memo concerning reserved vacancies for Garo categories.
Why it matters: The 1972 job reservation policy reserves 80% of jobs for Khasi, Garo, and other tribes in Meghalaya. The amended Office Memorandum ensures that Garo vacancies will be filled by Garo candidates within the state, eliminating eligibility for Garos outside Meghalaya.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
149 – IIT-Bombay’s global rank in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings (WUR) 2023.