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Presidential polls: Inequity in representation

There is a huge discrepancy in the value of the votes of ordinary voters through their MPs

Presidential polls: Inequity in representation
Will the reallocation of Lok Sabha seats then be delayed until the next decennial census after 2026 (which is scheduled to take place in 2031)?

By Atanu Biswas

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The presidential election in the country is scheduled for July 18, and the outcome may be a foregone conclusion. The common electorate, of course, doesn’t directly vote in the presidential election but expresses opinion through the representatives in the state legislative assembly and Parliament. Then, is the value of a common voter the same across the country, or is there any significant difference among different states?

An Electoral College (EC) comprising the MLAs and MPs from various states is constituted for the election of the president and vicepresident of India. Article 81 of the Constitution, of course, requires that each state get seats in Parliament proportional to its population, “so far as practicable”. However, the population in different states is increasing at highly varying rates. India’s crisis of disproportionate representation—mostly due to the unequal amount of successes in population-limiting measures by different states over the years—has been deepening over the last half a century. As Milan Vaishnav and Jamie Hintson pointed out (bit.ly/2JOrk3K), India’s southern population is growing much more slowly than the northern population. This is creating malapportionment in political representation, in addition to several other disparities.

Also, proportional representation is not mandated for Union territories or for states with a population below 60 lakh (as of the 31st Amendment in 1973). And the 84th amendment of the Constitution (2002), extended the “freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable the State Government to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation”. Will the reallocation of Lok Sabha seats then be delayed until the next decennial census after 2026 (which is scheduled to take place in 2031)?

Well, how is the EC actually formed? The value of each common electorate in the presidential election through his/her MLA should be 0.001, that is the combined value of 1,000 voters of a state is 1. For example, the population of West Bengal in 1971 was 44,312,011, and the state has 294 Bidhan Sabha seats. Dividing 44,312,011 by 294,000 and expressing that in the nearest integer, the value of the vote of each MLA of West Bengal is 151. Similarly, the value of the vote of a Rajasthan MLA is 129, that of Kerala is 152, and that in Sikkim is only 7. Proceeding in this way, the combined value of all the 4,120 members of the legislatures across India is 5,49,474.

The total value of the votes of the MPs is also fixed to be the same as the total value of the members of the state legislative assemblies. The number of elected MPs in India is 776, of which 543 are from Lok Sabha and 233 are from Rajya sabha. The value of each MP of the country is assumed to be the same in the EC, and that value is 708. This is obtained by dividing the total value of the MPs by 776 and then expressing it in the nearest integer.

However, there is a huge discrepancy in the value of the votes of ordinary voters through their MPs. For example, the 1971 population of Sikkim is 209,843, and the state has 2 MPs combining both houses of Parliament. So, for Sikkim, the votes of 148 ordinary electorates through their MPs add to 1. On the other hand, the combined value of votes of 1,079 electorates in West Bengal is 1. Similarly, the combined value of 1,040 electorates of Kerala is 1; exactly the same for Rajasthan. The 1971 population is the basis of forming the EC at present.

If we look at the scenario through the lens of the 2011 census data, through their MPs, the combined value of 2,223 electorates of West Bengal would become 1, whereas 431 electorates of Sikkim would correspond to 1. In fact, 1,627 electorates of Kerala would make 1 and 2,766 electorates of Rajasthan together contribute a value of 1. Political scientist Alistair McMillan of the University of Sheffield, UK, showed that (bit.ly/3okuApT), according to the 2001 Census data, Tamil Nadu should have had seven fewer Lok Sabha seats, while Uttar Pradesh should have gained seven more. Following McMillan’s approach, Vaishnav and Hintson found that, in 2026, Tamil Nadu and Kerala should have eight seats less each than the present scenario, and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar should get 11 and 10 seats more, respectively, in order to ensure proportionate representation.

The first three Presidential elections in the country (1952, 1957, and 1962), of course, used the population figures of the 1951 census to find the values of the members of the Electoral College. The next two elections (1967 and 1969) used the population according to the 1961 census. The 1971 census is used thereafter. Certainly, there are changes in the demographic composition of different parts of the country since then.

How to resolve this ever-increasing trend of discrepancy? A proportionate reallocation of Lok Sabha seats after 2031, if that happens, would penalise the southern states for complying with the population-limiting measures, for sure, and would be the ‘pulling off the Band-Aid’ strategy, as indicated by Vaishnav and Hintson. On the other hand, they think that the northern states may argue that the notion of ‘one person, one vote’ is a central tenet of democratic representation. Admittedly, it is never easy to resolve this problem.

McMillan, however, suggested the increase in the number of seats in the Lok Sabha, just enough that the most overrepresented state does not lose any seats under reapportionment. And still, it will possibly not be able to eradicate the controversy. Reforming the composition of the Rajya Sabha is another suggestion that may also solve the problem a bit, of course.

Finding the best solution is not easy, for sure. And India’s malapportionment in representation is getting intensified with every passing day.

This should be addressed and resolved with care.

(The author is Professor of statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata)

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