The post-independent Indian history shows that the first priority of any political party forming the government, at the centre, is to cement their grip on power by legislating and undertaking decisions that will promote the party interests and prolonged their rule. In keeping this tradition alive, the BJP govt. had outdone its predecessors by making hurried decisions-on issues that needed proper planning, consultation, and debate-from promoting sectarian identity and Hindu fundamentalism to sudden announcement for demonetization, banning cow slaughter in North and central India, prosecuting leading social activists and citizens who dare to challenge government policies, abrogating Article 370 and 35-A, and imposing the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.
The latest, in this long line of implementing policies for party’s interest, is the sudden announcement of delimitation exercise to be carried out in the four Northeastern states and union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. We may never discern the actual intent of the Central Government on the timing of such announcement, as well as the assigned year of census (2001 for NE states and 2011 for Jammu and Kashmir) on which the delimitation must be conducted, gives more room rooms for suspicion.
With regard to delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir, Hemant Singh in his article, What is delimitation and why the Central Government want to implement it in Jammu and Kashmir, states that the Kashmir region with its 46 assembly seats is mainly dominated and won by separatist leaders and their parties such as the National Conference Party or People Democratic Party (PDP). Due to their dominance, these separatist parties (who dislike the Indian leaderships and even the Indian Constitution) generally form the state government. Now the present NDA government wants to change this scenario. Because the BJP government only has political mileage in Jammu, the central government wants to increase Jammu’s share of seats in the state assembly (which now stands at 37 assembly seats) as well as in the Lok Sabha by subtracting the same from the Kashmir region. With Jammu’s share of assembly seats increased, New Delhi can without restraints decide the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Carrying out the delimitation in Kashmir will enable the present NDA govt. to form a BJP supported government in the state; thus debilitating the separatists’ grip on Kashmir politics. The argument made by the author is valid seeing the political turbulence in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Assam, Prabrajan Virodhi Manch (PVM), a forum against the infiltration, questioned the timing of the delimitation exercise. PVM Convener and the Supreme Court lawyer, Upamanyu Hazarika stated (in Economic Times, 1.3.2020) that the entire exercise prior to 2021 assembly election shows that the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad alliance is not confident of retaining the indigenous votes it secured in 2016 assembly election. Looking into the past record of the present Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the accusation of PVM seem justified given there was similar accusation in the past against Shah of manipulating the electoral constituency delimitation exercise in Gujarat to favor BJP.
With respect to Manipur, some state BJP members and legislators have joined other parties in opposition to the centre’s move for delimitation exercise. As most of us are well-aware, living in a tribal state, ethnic/tribal loyalty will always take preference over party directives. Even the valley based politicians will not like to lost assembly seats; as such, they now have valid reasons to oppose the delimitation exercise by questioning the reliability and accurateness of 2001 census.
With respect to Nagaland, both groups supporting and opposing the delimitation agree that the delimitation exercise proposed by the centre is to divert the attention of the people from the real issue of Naga political solution and once again divide the Nagas along the tribal lines. However, Nagaland’s case is different because those districts which have long felt deprived of deserved seats base on census figures are determined to see justice done to their districts by this present delimitation exercise. On the other hand, the districts having more seats are equally determined to retain the assembly seats by bringing up the issue of pending Naga political solution and suggested to carry delimitation exercise post-Naga solution (which may or may not happen) hoping for an increase in their share of Nagaland legislative assembly and parliamentary seats after the solution.
It is also strange that most Nagas who care little about negotiation or Naga nationalism are now using the negotiation card to oppose the delimitation. The debates surrounding delimitation spearheaded by tribal organizations have once again revealed the true colour of Nagaland elected representatives and their respective political parties: that politicians continue to be merchants of tribalism. Politicians and their parties have delegated their duties to their respective tribal bodies, which will no doubt have a serious repercussion sooner or later. Whenever situation rises for politicians particularly the elected representatives running the government to take difficult decisions in the face of tribal oppositions, thereby politically educate the public on issues, they instead chose to play tribal cards and exploit tribal organizations for political gains.
Today, for fear of losing few assembly seats, politicians are laying the foundation for more tribal discords and bad governance in days to come. People are bound to disagree on issues but these disagreements should be democratic. To indirectly and routinely use the excuses of imminent law and order situations only shows we are still very primitive. Take the example of two Assam residents who filed petition in the Supreme Court seeking Court’s directions to the authorities to defer the process of the delimitation till the completion of Census 2021, and I honestly feel Nagaland need to adopt on this line as absence of accurate census figures may fail to deliver justice in the long run. That is a prime illustration of how we should disagree in a democratic society.
Lastly, Nagaland Election Commission need to seriously check and strike out voters registered in electoral roll of more than one constituency（As per Section 17 of The Representation of the People Act, 1950）before delimitation exercise starts this year or in coming years.