THE CONTEXT: The seats in the Lok Sabha is frozen as per the 1971 census population data. Then the population was 54 crores only which has more than doubled leading to significant political underrepresentation. When the next seat readjustment is due after the 2031 census, the changes in political representation would have different consequences to northern and southern States. This write-up examines this issue in detail.
CLARIFYING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEMOCRACY AND FEDERALISM
- Democracy is a system of elected Government. Essentially, a political construct democracy is operationalised through the principle “one person, one vote”. To quote Nehru “I prefer democracy not because it is the best form of Government but because there is no other form of Government better than democracy”.
- Political representation is the key feature of democracy through which the voices and concerns of the people are reflected in the scheme of governance of a country.
- Thus free and fair election process must be based on transparent delimitation after each census. This would reflect the changing demographic profiles of the country and would address the imbalances in “democracy”.
- Democratic governance provides scope for a federal system because it allows dispersal of political power and accommodates diversity.
- However, there might be situations where the political representation might militate against the federal system.
- Federalism is an arrangement of power-sharing between two or more constituent units in a political system. The essence of federalism is constitutionally assigned division of powers and the existence of at least two levels of Government.
- Federalism reconciles the needs for autonomy and dependence. In a federal polity, the federal/union/central Government and the province/state/cantons are supreme in their constitutionally demarcated areas.
- Federalism is generally preferred to a unitary structure because it promotes democratic governance by de-concentrating political authority.
- The local needs and aspirations are reflected in the decision making processes of the federal units which ensures political accountability.
- In this sense, a federal setup promotes democracy through ensuring effective say for people in the affairs that affect them.
- The federal system works on the notion of “equality of power” between States. But an increase in political democracy can result in “disturbing” this equality.
CHALLENGES OF FREEZING THE LEGISLATIVE SEATS IN INDIA
- Article 81 provides that each State receives seats in proportion to its population and allocate those seats to constituencies of roughly equal size except in cases of UTs and States less than 6 million populations.
- To divide these seats proportionally, Article 82 of the Constitution provides for the reallocation of seats after every census based on updated population figures.
- However, the Forty-Second Amendment enacted in 1976—suspended the revision of seats until after the 2001 Census. In 2002, the Eighty-Fourth Amendment extended this freeze until the next decennial Census after 2026 which is in 2031 although after the 87th Amendment the constituencies were readjusted as per the 2001 Census without altering the number of seats.
- By 2031, the population figures used to allot Parliamentary seats to each State will be six decades old. But this freeze for promoting family planning and not punishing successful States have led to serious challenges to Indian polity which are discussed below.
- PROBLEM OF MAL-APPORTIONMENT
It means a discrepancy between the number of legislative seats and the extent of the population in a geographical unit. For instance, in India, the number of seats in States are the same as in 1971 despite doubling of population. Between States, this problem is acute as States like UP and Bihar suffer from underrepresentation.
- UNDERMINES DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
The essential condition for democracy is one person one vote and one value. The skewed political representation results in unequal values for votes of citizens. For instance, an MP from the Gangetic valley represents about 25% more people than a non-Gangetic MP.
- ISSUE OF EXCESSIVE FEDERALISM
Small States (population-wise) enjoy over-representation due to a freeze of seats. For example, studies based on the 2011 Census indicate that Kerala, Tamil Nadu and undivided Andhra is overrepresented by 17 seats while UP, Bihar and Rajasthan are underrepresented by 19 seats. This means a minority of States can hold back important legislations and policies having an impact on national progress.
- INCREASING DISTANCE BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT AND THE GOVERNED.
The MPs are the medium of communication between the people of their constituencies and the Government and administration. India has one MP in the Lok Sabha for 2.2 million people. The USA, the third most populated country, has one Congressman for 0.6 million people. And each MP in the UK (a much smaller country of 64 million people, or about the same as Karnataka) represents 0.1 million people.
- EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE
Underrepresentation of States in the highest decision-making body of the country reduces the scope of favourable policy decisions by the Legislature and the Executive. Studies in the USA, Brazil, etc suggest that this can have an important impact on Executive–Legislature relations, intra-legislative bargaining and the overall performance of democratic systems.
HOW POLITICAL DEMOCRACY WILL IMPACT FEDERAL RELATIONS?
SHIFT IN POLITICAL POWER
The readjustment of Lok Sabha seats after 2026 will benefit the northern States while the southern States are likely to lose out. For instance, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone stand to gain 21 seats while Kerala and Tamil Nadu would forfeit as many as 16.
DOMINATION BY BIG STATES
Small States fear that their voices will not count in issues of national governance due to the dominance of bigger States and they will become irrelevant in the economic and political discourse of the country.
Indian federalism differs from the classical federations like the USA in that the relation between the Centre and the constituent units are not uniform. For instance, the special provisions in Art 371, 371A and the number of seats for States in Rajya Sabha etc. There is a view that this asymmetry will be further deepened due to the readjustment of seats.
TENDENCY TOWARDS OVER-CENTRALISATION
The bigger States will have more say in the formation of the Union Government owing to larger representation. As of now, the northern States favour the ruling party at the Centre and most of their MPs come from these States. Readjustment can increase their role in Government formation compared to southern and northeastern states which can result in the centralization of political and economic power at the Centre.
IMPACT ON CENTRE- STATE COOPERATION
A functional federal system requires a cooperative working relationship between the Centre and the States and the States inter se. The political marginalization and economic disadvantages accompanied by changes in representation can lead to an acrimonious relationship between the Centre and the States that lost in the bargain.
SUB REGIONAL CHAUVINISM
The imbalances in the federal relations due to the above-mentioned factors can reignite linguistic, cultural and ethnic challenges which in turn deteriorate the federal relations. The anti-Hindi movement in Tamil Nadu, militancy in Punjab and the insurgency in the northeast provide vital lessons in this regard.
RECONCILING DEMOCRACY AND FEDERALISM IN INDIA
RE-APPORTIONMENT AFTER 2031
Had India reallocated the seats after each decennial Census, the shift in political power would have been gradual. The changes in demography need to be reflected in seat allocations and any further delay will only increase the pain in the process.
EMPOWERING THE STATES
To assuage the concerns of small states that they will be dominated by bigger ones the powers of States vis-à-vis the Centre in the Lists (Schedule 7) and altering of State boundaries must be increased.
MORE POWER TO RAJYA SABHA
Rajya Sabha is the House of States and its role and composition must be expanded. This would allow the small States a kind of check over the majoritarian politics that impacts them adversely. Measures suggested like direct elections, restoring domicile requirements, etc. can transform the Upper House into a real venue for debates on States’ interests.
IDEA OF A SUPERMAJORITY
Constitutional changes dealing with language, religion, financial relations and other significant provisions must have the consent of all or nearly all the States. This idea of “consensus items” that require unanimity is necessary to protect the minority from the majority.
REORGANISATION OF STATES
Breaking up big States into small States can preclude them from dominating national governance policies. Time has also come for a second State reorganisation commission so that the challenges of demography, economy, governance and demands of statehood etc. can be addressed.
INCREASE THE NUMBER OF SEATS IN LOK SABHAThis will have two important advantages. One, no overrepresented States will lose seats under reapportionment. Second, it will address the problems of oversized constituencies and MPs responsiveness. Indian MPs represent an average of 2.5 million people which is three times more than their counterparts in the House of Representatives of the USA.
FAMILY PLANNING NEEDS GREATER FOCUS
The States with higher populations need a greater focus on family planning. Although various Government reports including NFHS IV, Economic Survey 2018 etc. have observed that India is on course to achieve a replacement-level fertility rate, the TFR of UP and Bihar is still very high.
HOW DO OTHER FEDERATIONS DEAL WITH THIS ISSUE?
- Federal democracies have incorporated into their governing structures various mechanisms to ensure the balance between democratic and federal principles.
The US Constitution has protected the smaller States in multiple ways.
- First, the national authority over the States is very limited, for instance, States’ boundaries cannot be altered without their consent etc.
- Second, every State big or small has equal representation in the Senate.
- Third, the President is elected by electoral votes which mean s/he must-win States rather than the majority of votes by national population.
- Fourth, through the custom of filibuster legislation, to pass important Bills, a supermajority is required in the Senate.
Other federations like Switzerland, Canada, etc have adopted such other means of reconciliation.
- For instance, Art 3 of the Swizz Constitution declares that the Cantons (Provinces/States) are sovereign except to the extent that their sovereignty is limited by the Federal Constitution. They exercise all rights that are not vested in the Confederation. While Art 4 provides for four national languages, Art 5A calls for the principle of subsidiarity which must be observed in the allocation of State tasks and responsibilities.
THE CONCLUSION: Federalism and democracy are typically seen as mutually supportive. But, in the Indian context of the debate on the apportionment of seats in the Lok Sabha, this relationship seems to be severely strained. However, reapportionment or increasing the seats in the Lower House is a must for curing the defects of a flawed structure of Indian political democracy. But, the reconciliation between democracy and federalism requires that the concerns of States must be addressed fairly. For this, an environment of trust between the constituent units of Indian polity must be created which has arguably plunged to an all-time low.Spread the Word