VOX Populi – Parliamentarians Debate at Valley of Words Festival
By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 21 Nov: This year’s VOX Populi debate at the Valley of Words Literature Festival was on a very interesting topic, the delimitation exercise to be undertaken before 2026 for adding more seats in the Lok Sabha. This exercise is due after a gap of 25 years as a 25 year freeze on delimitation has been in force since 2001.
The debate was curated by Dr Amna, while senior journalist Rajeev Ranjan Jha spoke about delimitation and its context, and its possible outcomes. He also briefly spoke about the history of the delimitation exercise and the fact that the states with a population less than 60 lakhs were exempt from the population criteria. The parliamentarians who participated in the debate through recordings of their opinion included BJP’s Arjun Meghwal, Rajya Sabha MP from Congress Vivek Tankha, AAP’s Sanjay Singh, RJD’s Manoj Jha, CPI-M’s John Brittas, Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi, TRS MP K Keshava Rao and BJD’s Amar Patnaik.
While Arjun Meghwal, who is also a Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, favoured the exercise to be undertaken and did not elaborate on how it would be done, others mainly spoke on expected political lines, putting across their respective party’s opinion as well as apprehensions. Meghwal highlighted the need for the exercise and felt that adding more seats would improve the representation. He also pointed out that, at present, a Lok Sabha MP represents 15 to 20 lakh voters and it was not easy to serve them efficiently. Priyanka Chaturvedi also took a positive view of the exercise and highlighted the need to add more seats. She also said that one ought not to oppose the exercise for the sake of opposing. She also added that a particular political party might stand to benefit more than the others also ought not to bother the other parties if the exercise was undertaken in earnest. She added that, if UP, the largest state in India with maximum number of seats was at present represented by BJP, in future it could be represented by SP or some other party.
Vivek Tankha of Congress also appeared to be more balanced than others in the debate. Of course, like others, he too was concerned about the fact that population being the major criteria of delimitation exercise could end up punishing the states that had been “honest” in ensuring population control, while those that had failed to do so would end up getting more representation. He said that he was a strong advocate of bringing in measures for population control in India for better governance. Tankha was, however, open to a Presidential form of Government, too.
AAP’s Sanjay Singh said he was not against the delimitation exercise but it ought not to be carried out in a way that it benefited a particular political party. He also said that MPs, MLAs and even Municipal Corporators ought to be given more facilities (not salaries) like offices to enable them to serve their constituencies more efficiently. He also highlighted the fact that, in smaller states like Goa and Puducherry, each MLA represented a constituency of around 20,000 voters, while an MLA in UP on an average represented a constituency of up to 4 to 5 lakhs.
RJD’s Manoj Jha likened the Delimitation Commission to the CBI that had been once branded as a caged parrot of the government. He apprehended that the exercise might not be taken up in honestly under the present dispensation and might turn out to be a cherry-picking exercise. While admitting that increasing population was a major criterion, he called for the exercise to be carried out in a much more nuanced manner. He was also strongly opposed to the presidential form of governance and stated that such a format did not suit India. He also called for banning those who used hate speeches in elections from contesting polls.
CPI-M’s John Brittas focussed more on how the North would stand to gain and dominate the political scenario if the delimitation exercise was based on population increase. He said that the southern states like Kerala would lose out in the exercise undertaken on the basis of population increase. He also claimed that population increase also did not get fair representation as there was very little representation of women and the minorities in the present government! Hence, the true representation of the population did not exist!
TRS’s Keshava Rao’s opinion was also focused on the North vs South line. He also sought to criticise the present government by claiming that it was not the government of the people but that of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. He also claimed that various institutions like the Election Commission did not function as they ought to and were prone to abuse. Amar Patnaik of BJD also spoke in somewhat similar vein, claiming that the delimitation exercise, if not taken in a more “broad manner”, would not be beneficial to several states. He, however, admitted that the delimitation commission would have a daunting task before it to balance out various criteria and even admitted that it would not be easy for the Commission to ignore the population growth.
The panellists presented important insights into the topic from point of Governance issues, demographic and regional balance, and their perspective on reforms. Earlier, opening the debate, Dr Sanjeev Chopra, the festival director stated that the party in the majority would mostly manage to legislate the bills it sought to bring, but this did not mean that divergent views would not be heard. He pointed out that the first amendment to the Constitution was brought into effect in 1951 and at that time although Congress had the majority there were other powerful voices in the Opposition like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Acharya Kriplani. He added that public domain offered new insights and ideas through debates and interaction between individuals and communities. This is where VOX Populi Parliamentarians’ Debate becomes an important part of the Valley of Words international literature festival and arts festival.
Speaking on the topic, the curator of the debate, renowned academician Author and Social Entrepreneur Dr Amna pointed out that engaging in a discussion generated effective critical thinking and this was very important for diverse artistic and cultural expressions. Dr Amna said it was good to observe how the popularity and participation in ‘VOX Populi’ had increased over time.