All the gainers of delimitation might well be those states that have fared poorly in their social and economic development endeavours
The Malkajgiri Lok Sabha constituency in Telangana has over 31.5 lakh voters, which is, of course, more than the population of Qatar, the World Cup-hosting nation and nearly three-fifths the population of Scandinavian countries like Norway or Denmark. In contrast, Lakshadweep has a sole Lower House parliamentary seat, whose representative is decided by a total electorate of a little over 64,000 voters.
Deciding the rulers of the world’s largest democracy set in the most populous country is bound to be complicated. The diversities throw up seeming discrepancies and anomalies, but most of us can live with imperfections as long as they don’t seem to systemically debuff or selectively reduce powers of certain constituents.
Of late, South India has started to feel fear over the next delimitation exercise because no matter by which formula or method it is done, it would be left with lesser political power and a lesser sense of say in the Central governments of the future. It would have been “punished”, in its perception unfairly.
While India has done a census every decade, starting with 1951 (it could not be done in 2021 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic), it has set up a delimitation commission only on four prior occasions — 1952, 1963, 1973, and the last one, in 2002. The total number of Lok Sabha seats set at 545 in 1973 has remained unchanged, rising only marginally from 489 in 1952.
In 2002, the Centre led by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA coalition delayed a review of parliamentary seats for another 25 years, just like the Indira Gandhi government had done in 1973. Though select delimitations were conducted, like in Assam, it led to neither addition nor deletion of either Lok Sabha or state Assembly seats, though boundaries were redrawn to various constituencies. Similarly, the delimitation for Assembly seats in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir was also completed earlier this year, based on the 2011 census, and its 83 Assembly seats were increased to 90.
But the delimitation of 2026 may leave the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana at a political loss in contrast to the north, and especially states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, owing to the vastly different levels of success of population control programmes.
With a larger population growth, Uttar Pradesh (which has 80 seats now) may gain 11 seats after delimitation, as opposed to Tamil Nadu, which, according to some reports, may lose eight seats. The combined numbers for the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana could come down from 42 to 34, as per Carnegie report projections. Kerala may lose eight of its 20 seats, and Karnataka, may come down marginally to 26 (from current strength of 28).
All the gainers of delimitation might well be those states that have fared poorly in their social and economic development endeavours. Besides UP gaining 11, the other gainers could be Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Whether in terms of the share of contribution to growth (GDP) or per capita income, or performance in social development and human development indices, the southern states have outperformed their northern Indian counterparts over the last several decades.
Of course, democracy means a person equals a vote. However, if with greater population — and the states of UP, Bihar and West Bengal together might represent a third of the country — these states deserve greater political say, leaving the South behind for having developed better would create a big problem for the country in the future.
There are no easy answers.