It is time political parties in Manipur recognise the ill effects of this arrangement rather than eyeing it as the key to ensuring the victory of ruling party candidates during every parliamentary election.
The state of Manipur sends two Lok Sabha members to the Indian parliament, representing the inner and outer Manipur parliamentary constituencies.
While the unreserved seat of inner Manipur parliamentary constituency represents the people from the valley districts, the outer parliamentary seat, which is a reserved seat for Scheduled Tribes, technically representing tribal people of the state.
However, in the first parliamentary election held in 1951-1952, this principle of separating a reserved seat from no-reserved one was diluted by clubbing eight valley assembly segments to the outer parliamentary constituency on the pretext of adjusting the population differences between the two constituencies, while several tribal villages falling under some hill districts were made part of the valley for purpose of exercising the franchise, both in assembly and parliamentary elections.
Interestingly, two stalwarts – L. Jugeshwar Singh and Rishang Keishing – who got elected from the inner and outer Manipur parliamentary constituencies respectively in that very election – criticised the arrangement of jumbling up the valley and hill voters in a constituency as unfair and undemocratic. Being visionary statesmen, they probably could foresee the likely implications of such an arrangement as having the potential to provoke widespread dissatisfactions among majority Meiteis as well as the tribals, not only at that point of time but even in years to follow.
Therefore, when the first Delimitation Commission took shape in 1952, they submitted that the arrangement of the Election Commission of India as above was improper and should be reconsidered. They argued that the arrangement defeated the very spirit of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, under which two seats were allocated to Manipur, and that both constituencies were meant to exclusively represent the valley and the hill people without dilution.
The duo had also sensitised the commission that Manipur being unique in her population composition, the arrangement could well turn out to be a breeding ground for valley–hill differences and lead to unnecessary political bickering. The commission was, therefore, requested to correct the inconsistency in the interest of safeguarding voters democratic rights and also to promote communal harmony.
Unfortunately, the Delimitation Commission didn’t quite appreciate the likely implications the way the two stalwarts did, therefore decide to continue with that arrangement. Dissatisfied with this response from the commission, L. Jugeshwar Singh and Rishang Keishing submitted a detailed joint dissent note on the matter which was published in the Gazette of India issued vide S.R.O – 896, dated March 15, 1954. Later in 1963 and 1973, the second and third Delimitation Commissions had also overlooked this very significant inconsistency and allowed to be continued, hence remained uncorrected till date.
This flawed arrangement which was pointed out from the very beginning as erroneous, have over the years adversely impacted on the democratic rights of voters falling under the outer Manipur parliamentary constituency – both Meiteis and tribals. Being clubbed as voters of a reserved constituency, about 2.35 lakh people from eight assembly segments of the valley are deprived of the opportunity to contest the parliamentary election despite commanding a substantial number of votes.
The inner (yellow) and outer (purple) Manipur parliamentary constituencies. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Secondly, they are also deprived of the opportunity to put up a candidate of their choice who they believe would work in public interest. It is this frustration that gave birth to organisations such as the “MP Candidate Demand Committee”, which justifiably is demanding for reversion of the eight Assembly segments to the inner Manipur parliamentary constituency. It has also provided an opportunity to some sections of the society to come up with an unreasonable demand of reserving the lone Rajya Sabha seat from the state of Manipur only for the voters of these eight assembly segments.
It was in these backdrops that the Manipur Legislative Assembly passed a reluctant resolution in 2003, seeking for return of the eight valley Assembly segments to the inner constituency.
For the tribals too, clubbing such a substantial number of voters from the valley has serious drawbacks and hurt their interests in more ways than one. They are deprived of the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice in a free and fair manner since these 2.35 lakh voters often play out as a game-changer in deciding the outcome of the election, especially when more than two candidates were in the fray. In other words, the outcome of the election in this reserved seat is not decided by the tribals, but by the non-tribals, who more often than not go by the scheming of the party in power.
It also encourages corruption – voters from the valley who know little about the background and integrity of contesting candidates, and ignorant about issues relating to plights of tribals, quite naturally preferred their palms to be creased before doing a favour to any candidate. Though insidiously, in successive parliamentary elections, money changing hands days before the polling was reported to be common practice in these valley assembly segments.
Though Manipur is a pluralistic society, its population is broadly divided into two segments for election purpose – the valley comprising of the majority Meiteis and the Muslim Pangals, and hill communities comprising of Naga and Kuki-Zomi-Chin tribes. People’s aspirations and interests, therefore, are diverse, and over time we saw how even the slightest of misunderstandings have snowballed into major differences between the valley and the hills.
It was that statesmanlike appreciation of this very dynamics that prompted the two tall leaders to sound a note of caution to authorities many years back. What we see in today’s politics is precisely what was prophesied by them then – mistrusts and misunderstandings between the valley and the hill people. And in all fairness, the common men cannot be faulted for the perceptions held against each other, or wrongly construed notion or notions that tribals may have about the Meiteis.
The ground for nursing such mischievous thoughts, especially by individuals with vested interest motives was unfortunately made available by the system that refuses to appreciate the delicate local dynamics while compromising things on the altar of generalisation.
It is time political parties in Manipur recognise the ill effects of this arrangement rather than eyeing it as key to ensuring the victory of ruling party candidates during every parliamentary election. Mischievous roles played by some to ensure its continuance to perpetuate the denial of democratic rights to the entire voters of outer Parliamentary constituency must end. The injustice must stop through course correction by the Delimitation Commission 2020.
There is no reason why tribals of Manipur, with a population of 8,82,130 cannot be left alone as a constituency, while neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh with a population of 10,97,968 (2001 Census), could have two members of parliament. Who knows? Course correction on this front by the Delimitation Commission may just turn out to be the greatest favour done to Manipur in removing the trust deficit between the valley and hill people.