Dis-proportional Representation: The Power of Your Vote

This article was written by Tanmayi Sharma, a student of Jindal Global Law School.

“One Person, One Vote, One Value”

The principle that every person has an equal right to vote has always been considered the cornerstone of democracy. Every person is expected to have an equal right to choose their representative. However, a statistical analysis of actual practice in India shows that this principle has been severely diluted. This practice must be understood against the Constitutional backdrop of Delimitation.

Delimitation is the process of drawing boundaries, specifically electoral boundaries.[1] Therefore, the process of delimitation involves deciding which parliament seats are elected from which territories. Population forms the basis for allocation of seats to various States in the Lok Sabha. The motivation behind allowing re-adjustment of territorial constituencies is to maintain the Population-seat ratio, throughout the State and Union.

Delimitation finds its place in Article 81 and 82 of the Constitution. Under Article 82 of the Constitution the number of seats allocated to the House of People and the division of each State into territorial constituencies is to be Readjusted on the completion of every census, that is, every 10 years.[2] To conduct this readjustment, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation act after every census. A ‘Delimitation Commission’, responsible for redrawing these boundaries is constituted under this Act.[3] Four Delimitation commissions have been set up in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002 under their respective Acts.[4] This allowed for re-adjustment of the seats and constituencies to maintain the population-seat ratio.

However, an interesting conundrum cropped up in 1976, when the threat of over-population became a looming concern. Population forming the basis of seats in the Lok Sabha, served as a disincentive for States to adopt strict family planning measures. Fearing the rapid rise in population, the 42nd Amendment banned further delimitation of Constituencies till 2000.[5] The 84th Amendment to the Constitution as well as the Delimitation Act of 2002, extended this ban after the readjustment of territorial constituencies by the 4th Delimitation Commission.[6] The Amended Article 82 contains a proviso which states that the position of seats and territorial constituencies in the Lok Sabha, will remain fixed until 2026. It states that the division of each State into Territorial Constituencies remains fixed as per the 2001 consensus.[7]

It’s 2017, and with almost a decade left until the next readjustment of Constituencies, it is interesting to look at the effect of the Delimitation on each person’s vote. The Table below contains, State-wise, the number of parliamentary seats, the population of each State and the weight of each person’s vote. It also compares the situation today with the situation in 2001.

Source: Figures from Wikipedia (2017) and 2001 census [8]

The figure regarding the weight of each person’s vote has been arrived at by dividing the number of seats given to each state by the population of that state (in millions). Therefore, it represents the Seat-to-Population ratio. The table above dispels the myth that each person’s vote has the same value. The intention of delimitation is to maintain a similar Population-seat ratio across the states, but it is clear from the figures that this is not being achieved.

A State like Arunachal Pradesh, with a smaller population of 1.2 million, receives two seats in the Lok Sabha. Whereas, a larger state, with a higher population, like Haryana receives only 10 seats. This means that each seat in Haryana represents almost five times the number of people that a seat in Arunachal Pradesh would represent. Meaning that the value of each person’s vote in Haryana is diluted to a mere 0.3 in comparison to a 1.6 in Sikkim or even a 0.9 in Mizoram. The Union Territories paint an even starker picture with each vote from, meaning that the value of a vote from Lakshadweep is fifty times that of a vote from Haryana!

Looking at the figures alone, it seems outrageous that the principle of ‘One Vote, One Value’ is being so blatantly disregarded. However, the Jury is still out on whether this disparity in voting is necessarily a bad thing. First, there are certain logistical constraints with the division of seats. Even though Lakshadweep has an extremely small population of 64,000, they cannot possibly be given a fraction of a seat in the Parliament. Therefore, proportional representation can only go so far. Second, it may be argued that even though the value of a person’s vote may be higher in a certain state, because these states receive such little representation overall, the effect of such a vote would be lesser. Hence, the seeming disparity in favour of Sikkim over Rajasthan, would be misleading. Third, allocating more seats to states like Uttar Pradesh, which already controls over 80 seats in the Lok Sabha would be excessive.

Another important consideration is comparing the disparity in the weight of votes between 2017 and 2001. While disparity still existed in 2001, it has become more striking as areas like Haryana or the NCT of Delhi have grown exponentially in population. In contrast, states like Tripura have seen only slight increases in population. Puducherry has even decreased its population significantly. It could be said that the ban on Delimitation has achieved its purpose by not allowing States with ever-expanding populations from reaping the benefits of their wrong-doings.

In this exercise, I set out to look at whether the vote of every individual had the same power to elect a representative to office, and I found that it did not. It seems that disparities in weight of each person’s vote are here to stay. Perhaps the problem lies with the organisation of constituencies for the Lok Sabha on the basis of States itself. It would be worth considering an alternative approach that would provide a more proportional representation. However, such an endeavour would have to guard against the process of Gerrymandering.

“Delimitation and Gerrymandering: How to steal an election”

Gerrymandering is the process of reshaping voting districts, which inevitably provides unfair advantages to whomsoever is redrawing the lines. It is the redrawing of electoral district boundaries to win more districts in subsequent elections and retain legislative powers. In India, this process is called drawing electoral boundaries is known as ‘Delimitation’, and finds it place in Article 81.[9]

Gerrymandering is a process used to establish a political advantage by manipulating electoral boundaries. It specifically has a negative connotation, which differentiates from the more neutral term ‘Delimitation’. Gerrymandering is effective because of the ‘wasted vote effect’. Wasted votes are those that do not help a candidate to win an election. This can be for two reasons. Firstly, if the number of votes collected far exceed the number required to elect the candidate. For example, if the candidate requires 50% of the votes to win, but gets 90% of the votes, 39% of the votes go to waste. These votes could have been better used elsewhere. Secondly, if the candidate loses, all the votes given to her, go to waste, as they could have been used in a different electorate to secure a victory[10]

There are two specific strategies used in order to Gerrymander – cracking and packing. Let’s assume two Parties X and Y are contesting in an election, and Party Y is engaging in Gerrymandering. Packing refers to the act of confining a minority or Party X’s supporters to one electorate. So while Party X would win overwhelmingly in that electorate, it would lose in all others. Thus, it would not be able to form the majority in the House. Cracking refers to the act where the minority or Party X’s supporters are separated over several electorates. This ensures that Party X would not win in any electorates. It could be used in a more insidious manner to prevent a minority from coming together and having representation in the Legislature.

Considering the underhanded and arguably undemocratic nature of Gerrymandering, you may ask the question, Is this legal? Some countries such as Israel and Netherlands employ single nation-wide electorate systems, which preclude Gerrymandering.[11] But what about larger countries where such a system is not feasible. In countries such as Australia, drawing of electoral boundaries is done by a non-partisan Australian Electoral Commission. However, this is not the norm.[12] In Countries such as France, legislatures are allowed to redraw boundaries, with virtually no check.[13] However, before moving to India, I would like to explore the jurisdiction of the United States of America[14]

Gerrymandering occurs extensively in the USA. Some critics attribute the success of the Republican party in the 2016 election, to large-scale gerrymandering efforts by the party before the Election. However, there are certain safeguards in place, which are extremely important. Gerrymandering can only be done in a partisan manner. According to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, gerrymandering could never be done to disadvantage a racial or ethnic minority.[15] Districts are actually created to redress historical discrimination and ensure that minorities gain representation in the Government. Thus, there is a clear check on racial and minority gerrymandering. Some states like New Jersey, Washington, Arizona and California have given the power of redistricting to non-partisan commissions.

In India, the issue is not as widely debated or discussed, as a result there isn’t the same strict system of safeguards. Even though there is an Independent commission, minority gerrymandering still occurs. A prime example of this is the Union Territory of Puducherry. According to Section 9(1)(c) of the Delimitation Act, 2002, constituencies in which seats are reserved for Scheduled Cases must be distributed in different parts of the state, and as far as possible, in areas where their population is comparatively large.[16] In clear contravention of this, all reserved constituencies in Puducherry are located in rural areas. Urban Puducherry continues to exclude Dalits, and no change can take place until 2026. To add salt to the wound, even in those reserved constituencies, not more than one-third of the population comprises of Dalits.[17] Therefore, it is the powerful non-Dalit castes which determines candidates even in the reserved constituencies. The doctrine of representation has been diluted to its weakest form.

The Cracking in Puducherry is one of the ways in which Gerrymandering is done to disenfranchise Minority populations. Recent studies have revealed redrawing of constituencies to the favour of specific politicians. It is clear, that Gerrymandering is not such a wide-spread problem in India, as in the USA. This is generally attributed to the seemingly non-political body in charge of Delimitation, the Delimitation Commission. However, when political parties do engage in Gerrymandering, the effects are far more sinister than in USA. There is no safeguard in India to safeguard minorities from being denied their representation. While the reservation still ensure that the requisite number of minority candidates progress to legislation, these candidates are not chosen by the minorities they seek to represent. It is essentially a form of Tokenism, and is far more dangerous that the USA. Gerrymandering clearly dilutes the principles of representation and democracy, with perilous implications.

[1] The Delimitation Act. (1952).

[2] Constitution of India. (1950). Article 82.

[3] The Delimitation Act. (2002). Section 2.

[4] The Delimitation Act. (2002). Section 12.

[5] The Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act. (1976).  Section 15, 16.

[6] The Constitution (Eighty-Fourth Amendment) Act. (2002).  Section 2-4.

[7] Constitution of India. (1950). Article 82; The Constitution (Eighty-Fourth Amendment) Act. (2002).  Section 4.

[8] Source: Figures from Wikipedia (2017) and 2001 census

[9] Constitution of India. (1950). Article 81.

[10] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#/media/File:DifferingApportionment.svg

[11] Vox. (2017). How do other countries handle redistricting?. [online] Available at: https://www.vox.com/cards/gerrymandering-explained/how-do-other-countries-handle-redistricting [Accessed 3 Oct. 2017].

[12] En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Gerrymandering. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#Australia [Accessed 3 Oct. 2017].

[13] Tilby Stock, Jenny (1996). “The ‘Playmander’: its origins, operations and effect on South Australia”. In O’Neil, Bernard; Raftery, Judith; Round, Kerrie. Playford’s South Australia: Essays on the History of South Australia, 1933–1968. Association of Professional Historians. pp. 73–90.

[14] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#/media/File:The_Gerry-Mander_Edit.png

[15] Voting Rights Act. (1965).

[16] The Delimitation Act. (2002). Section 9(1)(c).

[17] Senthalir, S. (2016). ‘Gerrymandering’ to keep Dalits away. [online] The Hindu. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/elections/puducherry2016/gerrymandering-to-keep-dalits-away/article8591579.ece [Accessed 3 Oct. 2017].

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