Delimitation is a constitutional obligation through which areas of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies are redrawn based on a particular decade’s Census report. The objective is to ensure equitable distribution in representation. Therefore, this constitutionally empowered democratic exercise normally remained non-controversial, and the decisions of the Commissions are accepted by all stake holders. In the fourth delimitation held under the Delimitation Commission 2002, there were significant changes in the boundaries of both Assembly and Parliamentary seats, at least in 10 states out of 24 where the exercises were carried out. Several changes were recommended affecting both general and reserved seats for ST/SC, Dalit etc. Among others, the seats from where two prominent politicians; Manishankar Aiyar and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, had normally contested, were declared as reserved seats and were left constituency less at least in the general election that followed. But then like many others, these two stalwarts had also gracefully accepted the decision the Delimitation Commission.
Among the five states, including Jammu & Kashmir, now a Union Territory, where the fourth delimitation exercise was deferred is Manipur, a state which presently witnessed hectic political activities. Main reason for the ongoing controversy is dispute over the outcome of population count in Census 2001. In the 2001 Census report, which is the base for conducting delimitation 2020, at least nine Sub- Divisions of hill districts in undivided Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel recorded unusually high percentage of growth. This alleged error therefore has become a rallying point between the hills and the valley people, and one really is not sure to what extent this brinkmanship will stretch. While there could be multiple reasons behind the exponential growth in these Sub–Divisions, one major factor that cannot be ignored is the migration pattern in the state that preceded the conduct of Census 2001, which perhaps was not objectively appreciated either by the Registrar General of Census & Census Commission and the Government of Manipur.
Whether we like it or not, the reality on ground is that poverty and lack of awareness is far more prevalent in the hills of Manipur as compared to the valley areas. This being the case, small family norms normally is least in the priorities amongst most tribal families. Therefore, it has always been one major factor for hill districts recording a higher population growth. Secondly, in Naga dominated areas, the Naga political movement for independence had significantly influenced the common men in the way they looked at state and the Naga national movement and since the 1980s, many Nagas considered India-conducted programmes as a farce and never took part in them enthusiastically. The perception however changed in post 1997, after the NSCN-IM and the Government of India signed the ceasefire Agreement. Also with digitalization making inroads even in government offices, procuring any government-issued identity document was possible only if one was listed in a Census or electoral records. It encouraged people to list themselves.
Thirdly, the unfortunately ethnic clash between the Nagas and Kukis from 1992 – 1997 altered the migration pattern, thereby changing the demographic profile of the hill districts. There were massive intra as well as inter-district migrations involving both the communities. Several Kukis who felt insecure, particularly after the infamous Joupi/Janglenphai massacre on 13, September 1993, left Tamenglong district and moved to Kuki dominated areas of then Senapati district – majority of them to areas falling within Saitu Gamphazol, one of the nine Sub-Divisions that recorded sharp growth. The ethnic clash also hugely impacted on the pluralistic nature of settlement, where Nagas and Kukis lived as one community in many places, particularly along the national highway. Both communities started searching for safer areas within Senapati district itself. Similar were the cases in Ukhrul and Chandel. Many Naga villages earlier located in and around Moreh and close to the Myanmar border moved towards Chandel district Headquarters, and to Maring tribe dominated areas, while large chunk of Kukis also moved to areas adjoining Sajik Tampak, falling under Chakpikarong Sub-Division. These displacements were duly acknowledged by Committee for Restoration of Normalcy, a joint initiative of the United Naga Council and the Kuki Inpi Manipur, in their 1996 report where it was stated that the bloody conflict uprooted as many as 5452 families, thus compelling them to move to areas perceived to be safer.
Lastly, the violence that erupted in Imphal valley in June 2001 in protest against extension of ceasefire area beyond Nagaland, wherein the state Assembly hall was reduced to ashes and also resulted in the unfortunate gunning down of 18 protesters, sent a shock wave and fear psychosis amongst Nagas living in the valley. They moved to the hill district out of fear. This valley to hill migration of Nagas was not confined to Imphal town alone, but spread to the entire valley, including from villages on the foothills of the plain. Therefore, though it would be incorrect to attribute these factors as sole reason behind the disputed growth rates, this chain of violence Manipur witnessed in the 1990s surely had contributed significantly to population growths in the hill districts. Reasons why people have enrolled themselves for the first time in a particularly village not recorded with speaking written explanations by the enumerators is a different story.
Factually therefore, government functionaries associated with the Census should have been made accountable for the inaccuracy, if any. No doubt Census operations were conducted by the Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India, which is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, the support staffs normally are provided by the state government. Secondly, since every Census operations in the states are head by a State or region heads, depending on the size of the data, the scrutiny for possible errors should have been minute and stringent. Most importantly, though state government was more than happy to gleefully accept and utilize all Census related budgetary allocations by the centre, it was the same party in power that raised objections to the report as late as 2006/2007, calling the exercise as unreliable. The question therefore is, should the outcome of mismanagement coupled with negligence and derelictions of duty by the system and its functionaries be allowed to deprive the people of their democratic rights which have not been carried out in last 47 years?
There is need for serious application of mind by all stake holders. Merit and not brinkmanship should be guiding principle of resolving the current divergent view held by people in the valley and in the hills. Instead of thwarting the process yet again, the better would be to allow the process to go ahead, and the Commission urged upon to correct certain structural inconsistencies which the Third Delimitation Commission 1973 left behind. One such inconsistencies is clubbing of eight Assembly Constituencies, 7 from Thoubal and Jiribam, with Manipur outer Parliamentary seat. This arrangement is gross injustice to the voters in the valley as well as the hills. While the people falling under these Assembly segments are deprived of contesting or electing a representative of their choice, voters choice in the hills is rendered insignificant as the key to ensuring the success or failure of contesting candidates is firmly placed in the hands of any political party ruling the state. Also, it is time for the state and centre governments to realistically assess the equation between geography and population, not only while fixing number of MLAs, but even with allocation of area development funds. After all same quantum of fund cannot be used to develop a Constituency having an area of 55.95 Sq. Km (Average AC size in the valley) and one with 1004.45 Sq. Km area, which is the average size of assembly constituencies in the hills. Removing this mismatch realistically may do a world of good to Manipur’s valley – hill relationship.
The writer is a retirned IPS officer from Manipur, and author