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Pandora’s Box: Assam’s delimitation exercise raises unresolved issues

The Delimitation Commission wrote to the speakers of the Lok Sabha and assemblies of the four northeastern states, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh along with Jammu and Kashmir to name associate members to the panel. As such, the Assam legislative assembly has nominated five MLAs. Among the five MLAs nominated by Assam Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami are Ramendra Narayan Kalita from (Asom Gana Parishad), Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha (Congress), Hafiz Bashir Ahmed (All India United Democratic Front), Mrinal Kumar Saikia (BJP) and Rabiram Narzary (Bodoland People’s Front). The commission will also have five parliamentarians from the state as members, including 3 BJP MPs. In that list included are Pallab Lochan, Rajdeep Roy, Naba Kumar Sarania, Dilip Saikia, and Abdul Kahleque. This panel will carry forward the delimitation efforts. This has raised some eyebrows regarding the apprehensions associated with the exercise.

Speaking to Inside Northeast, Congress MP Abdul Kahleque who has been nominated, said, “it will be difficult to comment as to how it unfolds since we have not yet had a meeting”.

A brief glance of past

Delimitation is the action of fixing the boundary or limits of something. The Delimitation commission or Boundary commission of India is a commission established by the Government of India under the provisions of the Delimitation Commission Act. The main task of the commission is redrawing the boundaries of the various assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on a recent census.

The Central Government in February 2008 had deferred delimitation exercise in Assam for a few reasons: change in boundaries, the break-up of affiliation between the public and its representatives, and the expected NRC rollout, which would reflect the true population configuration of the state among others. Thus, the delimitation process now has raised some eyebrows regarding the intent.

Also read: Assam: BPF confident of winning BTC general election with absolute majority

As reported by the Leaflet, a petition has been filed by Brelithamarak and Bhanu Jay Rabha, alleged that the decision to conduct the pending process of delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies was not only a hasty decision but stands contrary to the very idea behind conducting delimitation. “Not only, but an older Census data from 2001 is also proposed to be used as the basis for delimitation in the State of Assam, the haste is evident inasmuch as the most recent population figures will be available from the Census of 2021, the preparations whereof are already underway”, the petitioner said, as reported on the Leaflet.

The grey areas in Assam

Critics claim that the reasons which led to the postponement of delimitation in 2008 still exist in Assam. The opposition Congress has also raised the issue in terms of the NRC. Speaking to Inside Northeast, President, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, said “there is no conclusion as far as the Assam NRC is concerned and originally the exercise was stopped due to the registry. Now we risk including illegal immigrants on the exercise based on this”. He also raised the census issue claiming it to be a violation of law by the BJP, “we are basing our exercise based on 2001 census and its been 20 years. The population pattern has changed in this time”. He also alleged that the “Assam govt is trying to push it more than the central government”.

The counter

Following the issues raised by the civil societies and opposition, the BJP has tried to explain the issue in terms of limiting it to just “realignment and renaming of constituencies”. As for the NRC irregularities associated with the issue, Assam BJP Chief Ranjit Kumar Das spoke to Inside Northeast. “Earlier we considered the NRC issue but voting will go on irrespective and the goal of the delimitation is to maintain the ratio of the population in each constituency”. As for the census, he replied, “there is nothing about the census, it is about the voters of the constituency and the associated geographical areas”. He later responded to a query that “misinformation has been generated on the issue”. Although the commission has emphasised on areas as per population, the BJP is looking to also consider historical relevance in terms of renaming or alignment.

However, the bigger issue is that the country will have the exercise again in 2026 based on the 2021 census. Will Assam have it again? Why is the state undergoing the exercise now? How will the dynamics change if the Assam NRC is materialised? These will be the key areas of concern in the coming times

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