Gerrymandering: How The Redrawing Of Constituencies Adversely Affect Muslim Representation In Legislatures?


By Joseph Maliakan

NEW DELHI—Gerrymandering is when the borders of a Panchayat or Municipal ward or an Assembly or Parliamentary constituency is drawn in such a way as to favour a particular party or an individual contesting elections to these bodies. A good amount of manipulation is involved in the exercise.

The assembly constituencies in the states that will go to polls by the end of 2023 and the parliamentary constituencies that will go to polls in 2024, were drawn up around 2004-05 on the basis of the 2001 census. Anyone studying India’s electoral map will notice every constituency has some jutting out even when there is no coastline or state boundary. It can only be explained by an undue influence exerted by the powerful political interests.

Gerrymandering or redrawing boundaries of assembly and parliamentary constituencies was never used so blatantly as by the present political dispensation at the Centre led by BJP. The delimitation exercise both in the Muslim majority area of Jammu and Kashmir – degraded as union territory in 2019, and the Northeastern state of Assam, are a deliberate exercise to reduce the power of the Muslim vote in these areas. 

Besides, such exercises have also been done in the past in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and many other states to reduce the impact of Muslim votes on the outcome of electoral results. Since Muslim majority areas were split and merged with Hindu-dominated areas, this made Muslim votes irrelevant in ensuring electoral victory. As polling in India is done on the basis of caste and religion, splitting Muslim majority areas and merging them Hindu majority constituencies ensured that a Muslim candidate can never be elected. This would result in decrease in Muslim presence in state assemblies and Parliament.

There are many Muslim dominated constituencies in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and several other states that have been declared reserved for scheduled castes(SC), thus preventing Muslims contesting from these seats. Most of such reservation of Muslim majority seats was done during the Congress rule itself against a general belief that Congress is pro-Muslim. There are many assembly seats with SCs accounting for as much as 50 per cent of the total voters but they are kept as open.

With communal polarization reaching its nadir during the last 10 years, Muslims have no chance of winning elections from any constituency with non-Muslim domination, thus making Muslims politically irrelevant in the country’s electoral democracy.

This game with Muslims is not restricted to BJP. This was earlier played out by Congress as well that politically harmed Muslims and reduced their presence in legislatures. It is a different thing that BJP is misusing delimitation exercise more blatantly and openly than other political parties.

The latest delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir was completed in May 2022 on the basis of the 2011 census.  The last delimitation in J&K was done in in 1995 based on the 1981 census. Delimitation in Assam was last carried out way back in 1976.

The latest delimitation in Assam was carried out on the basis of the 2001 census report to nullify the impact of the alleged increase in the Muslim population in the state. The Muslim population in Assam grew from 29 percent in 2001 to 34 percent in 2011.

The first delimitation in Assam was done in 1976 on the basis of the 1971 census when the population of the state was 1.46 crore. After that census was done in 2001 and 2011. No census was done in 2021. The current population of Assam is estimated to be 3.6 crore and the delimitation commission in its latest proposal has retained the number of assembly and parliament seats at 126 and 14, respectively. It looks as if religion, not population, formed the main criteria before the delimitation commission.

In December 2022, Assam Chief Minister Himata Biswa Sarma ordered the merging of recently formed administrative districts with their parent district. Biswanath district was remerged with Sonitpur, Hojai with  Nagaon, Bajali with Barpeta and Tamulpur with Baska. The curious merger decision came immediately after the Election Commission’s order of December 27, 2022 to start the delimitation exercise in the state from January 1, 2023.

In Assam, the BJP’s intentions in reorganising the districts are very clear. As per the 2001 and 2011 census reports, Barpeta district had more Muslims than Hindus. Since Barpeta has been merged with Hindu majority Bajali, it will weaken the voting power of the Barpeta Muslims. Congress’ Abdur Rahim Ahmed represents Barpeta Assembly constituency at present and Abdul Khalique, also of the Congress, represents the Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency. The mergers of other districts have also been done with a view reducing the voting power of Muslims.

But what is it that worries the BJP in Assam? Political analysts say that despite all tricks deployed to reduce Muslim representation in the state assembly, a record number of 31 Muslim MLAs got elected in 2021 assembly elections in the state. Of them, 16 are from the Congress and 15 from the Al India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), in a House of 126.

The J and K the delimitation commission, in its final order in May 2022, earmarked 43 assembly seats to the Hindu majority Jammu, an increase of six seats and 47 seats to the Muslim majority Kashmir, an increase of only one seat, in a House of 90, meaning an increase of seven seats from the present 83.

The latest delimitation brings the Muslim majority Kashmir representation down to 52.2 percent from 55.4 percent and increase the Hindu majority Jammu representation to 47.8 percent from 44.6 percent. In addition, four seats in the Kashmir Valley has been reserved for scheduled tribe, further adversely impacting the power of the Muslim vote.


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