Dakshin Delimitation: Answer to demographic change is deepening democracy

India will be safe if all communities get their due and adequate representation in the 1,478 seats in the Lok Sabha after the next delimitation per their population share.

ByDr G Mohan Gopal

Published Oct 07, 2023 | 11:20 AMUpdatedOct 20, 2023 | 1:54 PM

Delimitation challenge

Although about a decade remains before the next revision of the number of seats allocated in the Lok Sabha to each state and Union Territory (UT) as required by the Constitution, there is already deep concern in South India that the exercise will result in the complete marginalisation of the voice of the South because the population of the North has grown much more than that of the South.

There is wide fear that this may unleash divisive forces and put the very survival of our country at risk. The massive increase in the North’s legislative power share is widely seen in the South as a perverse outcome.

The South is being punished politically for its reduced fertility rates arising from its relative success in social reform and poverty alleviation, while the North is being rewarded for its continued high fertility rates because of its relative failure in these areas.

What will be the likely impact of the upcoming revision of the strength of the Lok Sabha? Will this exercise marginalise the South and threaten the very existence of India?

Are the concerns simmering in the South justified?

Also read: Celebrating differences

The background

Article 81 (1) (a) of the Constitution provides that “there shall be allotted to each state several seats in the House of the People in such manner that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, so far as practicable, the same for all states”.

Article 82 of the Constitution requires that the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha, as well as the allocation of Lok Sabha seats to each state and the division of each state into territorial constituencies, should be readjusted upon the completion of each decennial national census.

The 84th amendment to the Constitution paused this readjustment, providing that the 1973 allocation of Lok Sabha seats (based on the 1971 census) and the division of each state into territorial constituencies (based on the 2001 census) not be changed until the figures “of the first census taken after the year 2026 have been published”.

The first census after 2026 is scheduled to be taken in 2031. The next delimitation will take place after that. It will be the first revision of the allocation of Lok Sabha seats to States in six decades — the last delimitation, which fixed the current allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha, took place in 1973.

This analysis uses the estimated 2031 population figures published by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to assess the impact of the next delimitation on India’s four geographical regions.

It is also assumed in this analysis that the ratio between the population and the number of seats to determine the number of Lok Sabha seats will be the ratio applied in 1973, which was roughly one member of parliament per 10 lakh population (down from one seat per 7.3 lakh population in the first delimitation in 1952). Any other approach does not seem viable.

Increasing the ratio may result in an unmanageable increase in the size of the Lok Sabha. Lowering it will exacerbate the already low level of per capita representation in the Lok Sabha. For ease and brevity of analysis, we confine the analysis here to the 20 largest states and Jammu and Kashmir, which cover some 97 percent of the population of India[1].

Demographic Changes (1971-2031): Population

The Government of India estimates that the population of India in 2031 will be 147,87,75,000 (1. 478 billion). The population recorded in the 1971 census was 54,79,49,809 (547.9 million). This would be an increase in absolute terms of some 93 crores (930 million).

The population of the North alone is projected to go up by about half a billion people in the 1971-2031 period, rising from around 202 million in 1971 to nearly 750 million in 2031.

The population of Hindi-speaking northern states alone is projected to increase by a staggering 519 million, with the remaining 31 million of the northern increase going to the two non-Hindi-speaking jurisdictions included in this analysis (Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir).

In contrast, the population of the South will go up by only about 144 million (roughly one-third of the northern expansion), increasing from around 135 million in 1971 to about 279 million in 2031.

Whereas in 1971, the population of the North was some 1.5 times the population of the South, in 2031, it is projected to be more than thrice the latter.

The population of the West is projected to go up by some 134 million in the 1971-2031 period (roughly the same number as the South), rising from around 77 million in 1971 to nearly 211 million in 2031.

The population of the East is projected to go up by about 107 million in the 1971-2031 period, rising from around 81 million in 1971 to some 188 million in 2031.

In absolute numbers, the population increase in the South, the West and the East is broadly similar. It is the population increase of the Hindi-speaking North that is an outlier.

Also read: To pause or unpause delimitation

Population share

The share of North India’s population is projected to go up 13.3 percent — from 36.8 percent in 1971 to 50.1 percent in 2031, giving the North a clear majority.

The Hindi-speaking north is expected to increase its population by 14.1 percent between 1971 and 2031. In contrast, the non-Hindi-speaking North (Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir) will decrease its population share by 0.2 percent in that period.

The share of the South in India’s population will decrease by some 5.9 percent from nearly 25 percent to about 19 percent of the total population.

The population share of the East will also decrease by some 2.05 percent from around 15 percent in 1971 to about 13 percent in 1931 (figures rounded up). The population share of the West will remain stable at around 14 percent

Demographic change impact on Lok Sabha seats

The total number of seats in the Lok Sabha is expected to go up from 543 seats to 1478 after the delimitation, adding 935 new seats to the Lok Sabha.

Of these, some 505 new seats will go to the North: 485 new seats to the Hindi-speaking North and 20 new seats to the non-Hindi-speaking North.

The remaining 430 new seats will be broadly divided equally between the other three regions: 148 new seats to the South, 137 new seats to the West, and 112 new seats to the East. Some 33 new seats are not covered in this analysis.

We have had a roughly 45:55 (North to Rest ratio) parliament since 1973. After the next delimitation, we will likely look at a 51:49 parliament (North to Rest ratio).

The share of the North in the Lok Sabha is likely to go up after the next delimitation from the current 45 percent (245 seats, which is nearly 10 percent more than their 35 percent population share in 1971) to at least 50.1 percent (about 750 seats) (if it is to be pegged to their population share and not exceed it, as happened in 1973). This will give the North a single-region majority in the Lok Sabha.

The share of the South in the Lok Sabha will decrease from 23.7 percent (with 129 seats currently) to 18.8 percent (with 277 seats) after the delimitation. The gap between the North and the South in absolute numbers of MPs will rise nearly four-fold from 116 to 473.

The share of the West in the Lok Sabha will go up slightly from 13.6 percent currently (74 seats) to 14.3 percent seats (211 seats) after the delimitation.

The share of the East will go down from the current 14.1 percent (77 seats) to 12.75 percent (189 seats) after the delimitation.

Impact of the next delimitation

The political impact of the demographic changes is clear. The Hindi-speaking North will have a brute majority over the rest of India in the Lok Sabha. The North and the West together will have 61 percent of the population and 61 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha after the next delimitation.

That the numbers in the Lok Sabha will go up from the current 45:55 to 50:50 (North:Rest), or to 61:39 (North+West:Rest) in and itself should not be a source of concern. This change is a natural outcome of demographic change over six decades. It is not a manipulated outcome.

The real challenge is to ensure that the politics that underlies the functioning of parliament supports the unity and integrity of India rather than destroys the country.

The way forward

What can be done to protect and preserve the unity and integrity of India and save our Republic?
First, we must not err on the fundamentals. Come what may, we must not compromise on one of the most important cornerstones of democracy: the principle of one person, one vote.

No consideration should be given to any suggestion that the South should have weighted representation reflecting their economic strength. We must accept the demographic change as a democratic reality and work with it rather than against it.

Second, we must carefully understand the nature of the potential regional conflict between North and South.
Dr BR Ambedkar repeatedly warned a century ago that after independence and the exit of the British and Muslim elites, India would be ruled by the country’s only remaining powerful social group as an oligarchy — the Dvija communities. Fear about this prospect was explicitly expressed to the Constituent Assembly on the 12th day of our independence by two SC members who demanded that the depressed classes (as they were then called) must have their due share of power.

Dr Ambedkar provided for reservation in the Constitution as a tool for representing non-oligarchic communities in public employment and education, which is the feeder for public employment.

However, a representative state remains a distant dream. Dr Ambedkar’s prediction has come true. One has to be politically stone-blind not to see the plain reality that a handful of small Hindu dominant communities monopolise the bulk of key positions, claiming quite spuriously that they do so merely based on their merit.
In the last decade or so, the Hindi-speaking North and the West have come together in a strong ideological alliance to implement the vision of “Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan set in a Varnashrama social order (H3 agenda).

The effect of H3 alliance

The ideological H3 alliance between North and West will create a 61:39 parliament (H3:rest). The H3 agenda is unacceptable to common people in the South and likely in the East.

These oligarchic communities have invented the H3 agenda to mobilise and control the Avarna Hindus using Hindu religious sentiments and whipping up fear (not hatred) of Muslims and Christians.

If the H3 agenda is pressed in the lead-up to the next delimitation, the exercise will certainly become the flash point of a major regional conflict in India between the Hindi-speaking North and the West on the one hand and the South and the East on the other.

What the masses in the south fear about the Hindi-speaking North (and its allies in the regions) is the H3 agenda’s opposition to the Constitution and their resolve to replace the Republic with a Hindu (Dvija) Rashtra. The South fears the Northern elites’ anti-democratic politics and its colonial and imperialist tendency to impose its power, language, religion and social values on the rest of the country as well as the xenophobic, autarkic, Islamophobic and anti-modern cultures that find a place in the Dvija agenda in the North much more extensively than possible in the South. The South is apprehensive about the claim of the Dvija elites that they and their culture and religion alone represent the nation.

It is the H3 agenda that can and will create conflict between the North and the South of India, not the delimitation in and by itself.

There is no structural conflict between the common masses of the North and the South. History has forged us over centuries as one people in more ways than we can count, irrespective of religious, regional and caste differences.

Strong fraternal bonds exist between the SC, ST and BC communities nationwide. There is immense goodwill and solidarity between the four regions at the level of the masses. Over the last four decades, internal migration of workers has also developed cross-regional bonds that will strengthen national unity.

Avarna groups have no need or agenda to divide or demolish India. On the contrary, India was won through their struggle. They have the biggest stake in the survival and strengthening of India.

SC, ST and OBC categories are uniting the masses of India across regional and religious boundaries in a common struggle for their due share of power. OBC, in particular, is a crucial force for national unity as it is a category that includes all religions and all varnas across the country.

Also read: Delimitation no weapon to weaken the South

Need for representative Lok Sabha

If policy and law-making power (in all three branches of the state) is in the hands of SC, ST and BCs in a representative state, the emergence of a representative Lok Sabha through the next delimitation will only strengthen national unity and national progress.

If, on the other hand, power remains in the hands of the Dvijas, the expanded Lok Sabha will be used only for one purpose: to implement the H3 agenda to maintain the power of the Savarna oligarchy. Given that the H3 agenda is unacceptable to the South and the East, this could, in turn, make the next delimitation a cause for serious social and political conflict.

The Savarna oligarchy of India has so far ensured that no power has been allowed to emerge — socially, politically or economically — to challenge them. They have to realise that this is not viable. India has no future without a democratic transformation of power favouring the common masses. Such a transformation requires a visionary political agenda for social justice and representative democracy. This requires a deepening and strengthening of our democracy — a word which literally means that power (kratos) is held by common people (demos).

India will be safe if all communities get their due and adequate representation in the 1478 seats in the Lok Sabha after the next delimitation per their population share. Such a representative Lok Sabha will be a source of pride for India — not a powder keg that threatens to weaken it.

Social justice through the deepening of democracy is the answer to the challenge of radical and transformative demographic change.

NOTE:[1] The 21 states included in this analysis are nine Hindi-speaking Northern states (UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh); two non-Hindi Northern jurisdictions (Punjab and J&K); five states of South India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala); two states of Western India (Maharashtra and Gujarat); and three from the East (West Bengal, Assam and Odisha). The total population of India was 547,949,809 in the 1971 census and 1,210,854,977 in the 2011 census. The current population estimate used here is 1,326,093,247 and is expected to be 1478 million in 2031.