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One Person, One Vote, One Value

Context:

Political equality within liberal democracies goes beyond providing equal opportunities for participation in the political decision-making process; it also involves ensuring that each vote holds the same value as those of other community members.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • Indian Constitution
  • Elections
  • Statutory Bodies

Mains Question:

Along with addressing quantitative dilution of vote value, the next Delimitation Commission needs to address qualitative dilution so that minorities are represented more adequately. Analyse. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Background: Right to Vote in India:

  • The privilege of voting in India constitutes a fundamental political entitlement granted to all eligible Indian citizens by the Indian Constitution. This right is delineated by various articles and statutes, including:
  • Article 326: This constitutional provision establishes the concept of universal adult suffrage, asserting that “the elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage.”
  • Representation of the People Act, 1950: This legislation outlines the procedures for the preparation and revision of electoral rolls, the conduct of elections, and the determination of voter qualifications.
  • Representation of the People Act, 1951: This statute addresses matters related to the conduct of elections, disqualifications for membership of Parliament and State Legislatures, and other pertinent aspects.
  • The right to vote in India is a fundamental constitutional guarantee primarily articulated in Article 326 of the Indian Constitution.
  • This article upholds the principle of universal adult suffrage, ensuring that every Indian citizen aged 18 or older possesses the right to participate in elections for the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and Legislative Assemblies of States (Vidhan Sabha).
  • The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1988 through the 61st Amendment Act, signifying a noteworthy democratic reform. The Election Commission of India is tasked with overseeing elections and ensuring the equitable and free exercise of this right, typically carried out through secret ballots.
  • This right empowers citizens to actively participate in the democratic process, allowing them to choose their representatives at various levels of government, and stands as a fundamental tenet of India’s commitment to representative democracy.

Qualitative and Quantitative Dilution of the Right to Vote:

  • Legal expert Pamela S. Karlan emphasizes that the right to vote can be compromised both quantitatively and qualitatively through the manipulation of electoral boundaries.
  • Quantitative dilution occurs when votes carry unequal weight due to significant population variations among constituencies.
  • On the other hand, qualitative dilution arises when gerrymandering, the strategic redrawal of boundaries to favor a specific candidate or party, diminishes a voter’s likelihood of electing a representative of their choice.
  • Consequently, the delineation of constituencies plays a pivotal role in either reinforcing or undermining the foundations of democracy.

Safeguards in the Indian Constitution:

  • In order to prevent these dilutions, the framers of our Constitution envisioned specific safeguards to uphold equal political rights for every citizen.
  • Articles 81 and 170 of the Constitution stipulate that, to the extent feasible, the population ratio for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly constituencies should be identical.
  • Article 327 grants Parliament the authority to legislate on constituency delimitation, and such laws are not subject to legal challenge. In accordance with this, the government establishes an independent delimitation commission led by a retired Supreme Court judge to prevent qualitative dilution.
  • Articles 330 and 332 ensure the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies, a consideration that must be taken into account during the delimitation process.
  • The periodic delimitation of constituencies, based on the decennial Census, is crucial to maintaining the aspired equality in the value of votes to the greatest extent possible.

Delimitation Commission:

The government has established four delimitation commissions to date: in 1952, 1962, 1972, and 2002.

Background:

  • Delimitation refers to the process of establishing limits or boundaries for territorial constituencies within a country or a province with a legislative body.
  • The delimitation for Lok Sabha (LS) and Legislative Assembly (LA) differs from that of local bodies.
  • The Delimitation Commission Act was passed in 1952.
  • The Delimitation Commission is appointed by the President of India and collaborates with the Election Commission of India (ECI).
  • The first delimitation exercise was conducted by the President (with assistance from the Election Commission) in 1950-51.
  • The objectives of delimitation include ensuring equal representation for segments of the population, fair division of geographical areas to prevent electoral advantages for any political party, and adherence to the principle of “One Vote One Value.”
  • Article 82 empowers Parliament to enact a Delimitation Act after every Census, while Article 170 mandates states to be divided into territorial constituencies as per the Delimitation Act after each Census.
Delimitation CommissionAbout
FirstThe initial delimitation order in 1956 identified 86 constituencies as two-member constituencies, a designation that was eliminated by the Two Member Constituencies (Abolition) Act, 1961.  
SecondThe second delimitation order in 1967 augmented the number of Lok Sabha seats from 494 to 522 and State Assembly seats from 3,102 to 3,563.  
ThirdThe third delimitation order in 1976 raised the count of Lok Sabha and State Assembly constituencies to 543 and 3,997, respectively. In response to concerns about potential representation imbalances, the 42nd Amendment Act in 1976 froze the population figure from the 1971 Census for delimitation until after the 2001 Census.    
FourthThe Delimitation Act of 2002 did not grant the Delimitation Commission the authority to increase the number of seats. Instead, it stipulated that boundaries within existing constituencies should be readjusted.  
The Commission allowed up to a 10% variation in the parity principle; however, approximately 17 parliamentary constituencies and numerous Assembly constituencies exceeded this limit, enabling each representative to represent a larger population.  
Nevertheless, the fourth Delimitation Commission successfully reassigned reserved constituencies, leading to an increase in the number of seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) from 79 to 84 and Scheduled Tribes (STs) from 41 to 47 based on population growth. The moratorium on further seat increases was extended until the first Census after 2026.  

Dilution of the Value of Vote:

Quantitative Dilution:

  • Vote value dilution is evident in the significant population growth observed in Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Gujarat, surpassing 125% between 1971 and 2011. In contrast, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Odisha experienced a population increase of less than 100%, attributed to stringent population control measures.
  • This disparity underscores a substantial variation in the voting power of individuals among states. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, an average Member of Parliament (MP) represents approximately 2.53 million people, whereas in Tamil Nadu, an MP represents an average of around 1.84 million people, indicating a quantitative dilution.

Qualitative Dilution:

  • The qualitative dilution of vote value parity can serve as a means to marginalize or render insignificant the votes of minority groups. This can manifest in three ways.
  • Firstly, “cracking” involves dividing areas predominantly inhabited by minorities into different constituencies.
  • Secondly, “stacking” occurs when the minority population is subsumed within constituencies where others constitute the majority.
  • Lastly, “packing” involves concentrating minorities within a few constituencies, thereby diminishing their influence in other areas.
  • The issue of qualitative dilution of vote value was brought to light in both the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and the Sachar Committee Report.
  • In a significant number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) by the Delimitation Commission (1972–76), the Muslim population exceeded 50% and was also higher than the SC population.
  • Additionally, constituencies with a substantial SC population and a lower Muslim population were reclassified as unreserved.
  • This has had a significant impact on the representation of Muslims in Parliament. Currently, the proportion of Muslim Members of Parliament stands at only around 4.42%, whereas the Muslim population is 14.2%.

Conclusion:

Further delay in delimitation is untenable, as it would exacerbate the disparity in the ratio of population to representation. Simultaneously, it is crucial to safeguard the interests of the southern States, as their representation in Parliament may diminish when additional seats are allocated to states experiencing higher population growth. The upcoming Delimitation Commission must not only tackle the quantitative dilution of vote value but also address qualitative dilution to ensure more equitable representation for minorities.


February 2024
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