11 Assam Political Parties Write to EC Against Delimitation Exercise
GUWAHATI: Eleven Opposition parties of Assam, including the Congress, have submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission of India against the delimitation exercise, suggesting the need of a wider consultations. Bogged down by remarks of BJP leaders about the delimitation exercise that domination of the indigenous people of Assam remains in the state for the coming decades, the political parties in their joint memorandum said, “India is a secular country and we cannot believe that the Election Commission of India can do any such thing as publicly announced by some leaders of the ruling party of the state.” The parties have urged the EC to seek proof and act against people who have made such statements. Apart from the Congress, the parties that have come together to oppose the delimitation exercise include the Raijor Dal, Assam Jatiya Parishad, Jatiya Dal, state units of the Trinamool Congress, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), CPI (M-L) Liberation, RJD and JD(U).
Earlier, most of these parties had announced an informal alliance to take on the ruling BJP in the state. The political parties also held a dharna at Jantar Mantar on Friday before submitting their memorandum to the EC. In a draft delimitation document released on June 20, the EC – while retaining the number of Assembly seats in Assam at 126, and Lok Sabha constituencies at 14 – has proposed changes in the geographical boundaries of most constituencies, both Assembly and Lok Sabha. This implies several seats might now stand scrapped, while new ones have been carved out. After the draft document came out, there were protests in the state by Opposition parties as well as allies of the BJP. In their letter to the EC, the 11 Opposition parties said that they had already submitted several memoranda to the poll panel detailing the reasons for opposing the delimitation. It urged the EC to consider the matter “very thoroughly” and take necessary action on the basis of the facts submitted by them. The parties asked the EC to clarify how the exercise had been carried out, noting that as per the Delimitation Act, 2002, all the constituencies needed to be “geographically compact areas” and this should best be done by Revenue Field Officers. Talking about the “allegations” that the draft proposal had been “prepared by the BJP under the direction of the chief minister”, the parties pointed out, “If the Deputy Commissioners and Revenue Circle Officers of the state say that they have prepared the materials on the basis of which the Election Commission has prepared the draft proposal, then we can ask the Deputy Commissioners and Circle Officers.” The parties also expressed concern over statements by some BJP leaders that the draft delimitation would ensure that “domination of the indigenous people of Assam remains in the state for the coming decades”.
The controversy started after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that the draft protects the interests of “indigenous communities” for the future and that “a better delimitation than this is not possible till the number of seats are increased”. The parties point out that in 2008, the delimitation process was deferred in four Northeastern states, including Assam, and J&K due to the situation in those states. While the other three Northeast states are yet to see delimitation, the exercise has been initiated in Assam, they said. This was also questionable, the parties said, as in the case of Assam, the delimitation was specifically put off on the ground that a National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise to weed out illegal immigrants was unfinished. The BJP was among the parties that sought an NRC before delimitation. The situation remains unchanged as far as the NRC goes. In the case of J&K, the parties said, while the EC recently carried out delimitation, it did so using the 2011 Census data. “… we request you to give justification why in case of Assam, for the same delimitation process, 2001 Census data are used though 2011 Census data for Assam are available.”
However, justification for this has been that the current delimitation resumes the stalled 2008 process in Assam, which was to be based on the 2001 Census.
The parties said that at the time of the 1976 delimitation in Assam – the last one held in Assam, based on the 1971 Census – its population was 146 lakh. The 2001 and 2011 Census put this at, respectively, 266 and 312 lakh. “If in 2021, the Census would have been held (it was delayed due to Covid and is still to be completed), Assam’s population might have been about 350 lakh or so. Delimiting constituencies now, based on 2001 Census data, means keeping about 100 lakh people out of the delimitation process.”
The parties also questioned the necessity of the Assam delimitation exercise given that a country-wide delimitation is due in 2026, after the new Census.