Delimitation 4.0 in Manipur: Background, issues and challenges

Paojakhup Guite *

Population and territory are important characteristic features of a sovereign state to have an effective government, more so in democratic ones. In other words, the four important pillars of a state are population, territory, government and sovereignty.

Under Article 82 of the Constitution (Readjustment after each census), the Parliament by law enacts a Delimitation Act after every census. Thereafter, the Central Government constitutes a Delimitation Commission. In India, four such Delimitation Commissions had been constituted- in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002 under Delimitation Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002 respectively.

The Delimitation Commission set up under the Delimitation Act, 2002 was to readjust the division of each state and union territory into territorial constituencies for the purpose of Lok Sabha and state assembly elections on the basis of Census figures of 2001. The Commission has completed the delimitation exercise and the Delimitation Order, 2008 in respect of all the states, except in four North-eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland.

Gerrymandering- The Beginning

Gerrymandering is the practice of setting boundaries of electoral districts to favour specific political interests with legislative bodies. The concept was introduced in 1812 by the American politician and diplomat, Elbridge Gerry.

Right from day-one post-independence, Manipur tribals have always been taken along and been part of India’s democratic journey. This was for the first time experimented in India’s first election in 1951-52 under the auspices of the Delimitation Commission.

Notwithstanding the tribal population being short of the required number, the Delimitation Commission reached an agreement that for the purpose of Lok Sabha elections, the electorates of the erstwhile Thoubal sub-division (excluding Bishenpur tensil) in the Manipur plains were clubbed with the Outer Manipur PC because, the number of eligible tribal voters in the Outer constituency was only 1,80,641.

With the addition of 1,20,185 non-tribal voters of the Thoubal sub-division, the total strength of the Outer Manipur PC rose to 3,00,826. At that time, the Inner Manipur PC consisted of what was then Sadar sub-division (excluding the area which formerly constituted the Mao sub-division) and Bishenpur tehsil of the Thoubal sub-division.

Today, the Outer Manipur PC consists of the tribal areas of Jiribam, and the districts of Ukhrul, Kamjong, Churachandpur, Pherzawl, Tamenglong, Noney, Kangpokpi, Chandel, Tengnoupal and Senapati or the area which formerly constituted the Mao sub-division, along with the non-tribal areas in the Thoubal sub-division (excluding Bishenpur tehsil) and Jiribam. This arrangement is known as Gerrymandering.

Delimitation Justice- A Holy Grail in Thoubal

Today, the erstwhile sub-division of Thoubal (excluding Bishnupur Tehsil) comprises of eight Assembly Constituencies spreading across Thoubal, Kakching and Jiribam districts. These three non-tribal districts have the total voter strength of more than 2,35,000 as against their population size of 1,20,185 in 1951-52.

Buoyed by its population strength, people of these districts began to show their dissent. They do not want to accept the gerrymandering anymore. For them, this arrangement is egregiously a travesty of justice, hence no more acceptable. The issue is not just about the denial of their right to contest the Lok Sabha election. More importantly, it is about the violation of their constitutional and citizenship rights.

This injustice apparently makes the Representation of Peoples Act (RPA), 1950 an elephant in the room. This Act’s mandate is to give proper and separate representation of both tribals and non-tribals. Therefore, they are opposed to this constituency arrangement and boldly point out that the RPA Act, 1950 is more important than the equal distribution of population in the two Parliamentary Constituencies of Manipur.

Laishram Jogeshwor Singh and Rishang Keishing, Members of Parliament from Inner and Outer Manipur Constituencies respectively submitted the people’s dissent note to the Delimitation Commission in March, 1954 that the arrangement was “much criticised and protested against by all sections of the public of the Manipur State”.

On 12th April, 1954, the Delimitation Commission held a public consultative meeting on the issue at Imphal. On 16th June, 1954, the Commission issued its orders without change in the letter and spirit of the existing arrangement.

Even the Commission failed to provide justification of its order. Unfortunately this fateful decision has only ended up in antagonising all the people involved on the issue over time. In the past, the Thoubal MP Candidature Demand Committee with support of the people in these segments had even boycotted the elections.

Moreover, various Civil Society Organisations also demanded that the lone Rajya Sabha seat of the State be at least given to the people of these 8 Assembly Constituency segments as consolation.

It is worth remembering that the 8 Assembly segments had elected several Ministers from these segments as well as Okram Ibobi Singh, a unique record holder as the first and only MLA who became Chief Minister of the State for three consecutive terms.

However, apparently, the fate of political representations of the tribals in Parliament is held by the vagaries and mercies of the non-tribal electorates of Thoubal and Jiribam. In other words, electorates of the two non-tribal areas look like a King-Maker.

In 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, Soso Lorho of Naga People’s Front (NPF) could manage to garner 2.8 lakh votes from tribals and only 5,358 votes from non-tribals, while Thangso Baite of the Congress was voted winner with 1.9 lakh tribal votes and a huge 1,06,120 non-tribal votes. This way, the non-tribal votes cast in a solid block somewhat unfairly decided the winner in the tribal constituency.

But, the story was otherwise in the 2019 General Elections. Due to the fragmentation of Kuki votes and consolidation of Naga votes, Soso Lorho emerged victorious with 3.62 lakh tribal votes and just 6,450 non-tribal votes (3.54%) over K. James (INC) who got 87,926 non-tribal votes and H. Shokhopao Mate (BJP) who was voted 63,255 non-tribal votes.

As a result, the non-tribal voters failed to determine the winner this time. The tribal people of Manipur need an effective voice of their own in Parliament. That is why one seat was allotted to them in the first place. Yet, by adding a block of valley voters to this reserved constituency, that very intent seems to have been defeated by itself.

All stakeholders apparently agree that the 8 non-tribal Assembly Constituency segments need to be taken away from the tribal Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency.

Skewed Population- An Achilles’ Heel

In the Census report of 2001, nine sub-divisions including Mao-Maram, Paomata, Purul, Saitu Gamphazol, Chakpikarong, Machi, Chandel HQ, Kasom Khullen and Moreh of three hill districts such as Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel have shown unrealistic, unnatural and abnormal population growth rate as expressed in percentage. Each of the districts has hit more than a 100 per cent mark of population growth rate.

This has drawn criticisms from different quarters of Political Organisations, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and even the State Government. They point out that the population growth is rather baseless, because such a growth rate is biologically impossible in a ten years time (1991-2001).

Moreover, the Constitution of India was specifically amended as 84th Amendment in 2002 not to have delimitation of constituencies until the first census after 2026. Thus, the present constituencies arranged on the basis of 2001 Census shall continue to be in operation till the first Census after 2026 and, therefore, existing total number of seats in each state is frozen till 2026.

The Centre while made an announcement that the delimitation will now be conducted in the four North-eastern states, it also notified that the delimitation shall be based on the 2011 Census. However, it is not acceptable to the people of the three hill districts, thereby plead with the Centre that the Delimitation Act, 2002 shall be used and the delimitation exercise shall be based on 2001 Census.

They assert that the delimitation process is long overdue, while already done in other states of the country based on 2001 Census report. People of the three hill districts have been pressing hard for the conduct of delimitation as soon as possible, so that their befitting population size would be served justice.

Although the Centre shifted to 2011 Census as the base year from 2001’s, yet people of the valley districts are not convinced to accept it. They observe that the Census report of 2011 was incorrect and not acceptable even for the people of the three hill districts.

Strongly reacting to the proposal to conduct delimitation based on 2001 Census report, the Ethno Heritage Council (HERICOUN) has appealed to the State Government, Opposition and all political parties, CSOs to stand unitedly and sent a clear message to the Central Government that delimitation process should be done fair and square.

International Peace and Social Advancement has also urged the Government(s) and authority (ies) concerned to conduct the delimitation process only after completing the 2021 Census. Recalling that the then Central Government had resolved not to have delimitation till 2026, IPSA warned that ignoring the sentiment of Manipur might invite agitation.

The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act deferred delimitation in 1976 until 2001; second time, the 86th Amendment Act deferred it until 2026 where in both Amendments; existing total number of seats across states were kept frozen.

To ensure a representative democracy, the Centre should work in tandem with the State Government, Opposition and various CSOs. Foreigners inhabiting in the state should be detected and deported to their respective states or countries before conducting the proposed delimitation exercise.

Biometrics data (Aadhaar) and physical evidence should also be collected while counting heads to ensure transparency. The three hill districts that reported abnormal growth of population should be scrutinized at the earliest. Taking all these steps beforehand would enable us to become one. The buzzword “Chingtam-Tam Amani” principle will dwell in us.

* Paojakhup Guite wrote this article for The Sangai Express and Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on July 15 2020 .

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