Who moved my constituency?
Hitting the election campaign for a Delhi-based journalist like me is akin to paradropping straight into problems and issues that never seem so compelling in the national capital. Take the issue of delimitation of Parliamentary and assembly constituencies for instance.
This is one issue that has been exercising people's representatives from the time this gargantuan exercise was undertaken some six years ago. The purpose of delimitation was to re-carve Parliamentary and assembly constituencies on the basis of the demographic changes that had taken place since the last time it was done in 1976. By all reckoning, it has been a huge but unpopular effort. No MP or MLA likes his constituency to be changed as they claim a good harvest of votes from those whom they have been nursing for a long time. Delimitation robs many MPs of the certainties that a constituency provides when they go knocking to the voter's house for support. More importantly, there are legacies that come into play, both in terms of who will contest the elections as well as the support of the constituents.
It is only when one is on the trail that one realises the trauma that visits the MPs, whose constituencies have been tampered with. Many of them have lost their traditional seats and others who retain the names find that its reconstitution makes it unidentifiable from the one in the past.
What really hits you all over the country are questions about the objectivity of the exercise. Justice Kuldip Singh, who undertook this big task, went hopping from place to place and talked to people who had something to do about his agenda and intentions. In many districts and Parliamentary constituencies, there may have been reasons for reformatting the physical spaces, in other places there have not been adequate reasons. Justice Singh, many allege, did not touch many high-profile constituencies where MPs made a robust presentation. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar's constituency, Mayiladuturai, is one of them. When Justice Singh came to his constituency, he was able to convince him that there was no need to change its contours.
On the contrary, another young contestant for the Lok Sabha alleges that he lost his assembly segment when his opponents managed to convince the commission that there was a need to redraw his old constituency. "My constituency, from where my family has been traditionally contesting the elections, was lost. For months together I did not know from where to contest," he told me. Sachin Pilot was another young leader who was footloose for long after his constituency, Dausa, was declared as reserved for scheduled castes. Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran Parliamentarian and Speaker of the outgoing Lok Sabha, too, lost his seat when he could not peel himself off from his commitments in Delhi to plead status quo for his constituency. The real question is: how objective is this exercise. The delimitation commission put together certain criteria for redrawing them. Still there are cracks in the way it has been put together. MPs will tell you about the dark conspiracies that brought the misery on them.
The people of Ooty, Tamil Nadu, are incensed that the commission has reserved their constituency without taking into cognisance their special demographics. Badagas, who are the hill people of this area, have filed a petition in the Madras High Court claiming that their constituency was not considered to be reserved for scheduled castes as the population of SCs was less here. In the preliminary notification, it was not shown as reserved and, subsequently, it was put in that category. The Badagas' petitioner wondered why this was done and how this move of the delimitation commission would prevent any tribal, Badaga or Toda, to represent the constituency in the future.
There are scores of petitions lying in the courts. And, the die has been cast and nothing much can be done about it now. Delimitation has changed the election landscape of this country and thrown up more urban constituencies than there were in the past. Many of those who have lost their old bases are winning support by spreading money amongst voters. The big question is: who does the delimitation really help - big parties or the smaller ones? Also, does this reconfiguration really help in ushering clean politics or greater representation for the poor. It does not look like it.