Unequal democracy: South gets more seats in Lok Sabha

Demography is supposed to be destiny. In India’s populous democracy, demography is less destiny than a source of discrimination.

There is a huge North-South divide in India’s democracy, where the voice of the populous North is less valued than that of the South. Between them, the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala account for just over 21 percent of the population, but get 129 Lok Sabha seats.

Is representation in the Lok Sabha rightfully democratic? B Mathur/Reuters

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two most populous Hindi states, account for 25.1 percent of the population, but get only 120 seats. Kerala is the same size as Jharkhand and only slightly bigger than Assam in terms of population, but gets 20 Lok Sabha seats while Jharkhand and Assam get a measly 14 each.

The Hindi heartland states – which comprises UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Haryana – account for nearly 45 percent of the population, but they get only 214 seats between then. If Lok Sabha seats had gone by population, they should have got at least 241 seats – that’s 37 seats less than what they now get.

The biggest states by population in India (UP, Bihar and Maharashtra) are under-represented in the Lok Sabha by as many as 31 seats, or 5.7% of the 543 elected Lok Sabha seats. The three largest states in terms population – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar - are particularly underrepresented by as much as 19 seats in the Lok Sabha (see table).

We looked at the contribution of states to population as per Census 2011 and estimated the number of seats in the Lok Sabha that it should translate into. It turns out that the most populous state – Uttar Pradesh is also the most under-represented in the Lok Sabha today – by as much as 10 seats. This is followed by Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh at seven, six and four seats respectively.

Why is this happening? Two reasons are immediately visible. One, if some states are not represented adequately, clearly others are going to get over-represented. All Union Territories (barring Delhi, which we have considered as a special state for our analysis and houses 1.4 percent of the population) and small Indian states like Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Himachal Pradesh, among others, account for less than 1 percent but have to be represented by a discrete figure in the Lok Sabha. Even taking their number of 16 into account, they are still over- represented at 28 Lok Sabha seats.

Which brings us to the second reason: the proportion of population represented by various states and Union Territories has changed over the decades. For instance, even going by Census 2001 figures, the top three states are under-represented by 15 seats as opposed to 19 now. The ideal Lok Sabha representation should be responsive to population changes to provide adequate representation.

Why is this not happening? The main reasons are political. Parliament passed the 91st amendment to the Constitution in 2001 to freeze the number of seats for each state till 2026. In 1976, the 42nd amendment did the same – extend the freeze of state seats till 2001. The logic is that the size of parliamentary representation should not undermine efforts to reduce family sizes and ensure population control. Since the southern states were growing faster and managed to reduce family sizes faster than the North, they would have seen a faster reduction in their representation if the 91st amendment had not been passed.

But this leads to a perverse situation where the voice of the Hindi belt – and Maharashtra – is heard less than the voice of the southern states and the tiny Union Territories. Surely, that’s not democracy?

*10 most populous states Note: Highlighted states are underrepresented

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Updated Date: May 16, 2011 11:01:37 IST

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