While many civil society organisations and almost all political parties, except one or two, have expressed strong objection against delimitation of Lok Sabha and Assembly constitutions based on the 2001 census report, a few parties have made it clear that they are in favour of the delimitation exercise which has been already notified. The Central Government constituted a Delimitation Commission, to be headed by former Supreme Court Judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, to redraw Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland on March 6, 2020. Soon after the Union Law Ministry issued a notification to this effect, a serious debate erupted in Manipur on the merits and the demerits of the delimitation exercise. Delimitation Commissions have been constituted four times — in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act, 1952, in 1963 under Delimitation Commission Act, 1962, in 1973 under Delimitation Act, 1972 and in 2002 under Delimitation Act, 2002. But Jammu & Kashmir and the four Northeastern States were left out of the delimitation exercise carried out in 2002 on account of several factors which included volatile law and order situation and of course, the contentious census figures of 2001, in the context of Manipur. The basic argument of the CSOs and the political parties which have been opposing the delimitation exercise is built on the premises of the ‘outrageous’ census figures of 2001, if one must borrow their own term. From 18.37 lakhs in 1991, the State’s population grew to 22.93 lakhs in 2001. During this span of 10 years, some sub-divisions, particularly Mao-Maram in Senapati district recorded population growth of as much as 143 per cent. But one would definitely like to ask if any State, region or sub-division can achieve 100 per cent population growth within a decade. Acknowledging these gross errors in the census figures of 2001, the then Delimitation Commission deferred the census exercise till 2026. Although the impossible figures have not been corrected yet, the Government of India is now vigorously pushing for a new delimitation exercise based on the same faulty census report, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic. This evokes a serious question if there is any hidden agenda behind the sudden, vigorous push for the delimitation exercise which has been kept in abeyance for the last 18 years.
At the same time, the advocates of the delimitation exercise have been arguing that the delimitation exercise would do justice to the hill people. They have been contending that the Assembly segment-wise population is higher in the hill areas than in the valley. Speculations are rife that the valley districts would lose three or four Assembly segments and hill district would gain some Assembly constituencies if the delimitation exercise, already notified, goes ahead based on controversial 2001 census report. The heaven is not falling if the valley districts lose a few Assembly segments and the hill districts gain two or three Assembly constituencies. Whatever additional Assembly segments that would come into being out of the contested delimitation exercise will still remain in Manipur. But the unfortunate part is, not all the people residing within the State of Manipur identify themselves as Manipuris. Yet, one can never overlook the fact that Manipur is a common home to many ethnic communities which have their own cultures and identities. As these communities are interdependent and share a common history apart from living together for ages within a well defined geographical boundary, they can definitely churn out a composite Manipuri culture and pan-Manipuri identity. Once a composite Manipuri culture and pan-Manipuri identity becomes reality, delimitation exercises would be of little consequences to the common people. Having said this, any delimitation exercise based on twisted census report is simply unacceptable. Delimitation exercise per se is not bad but what is undesirable is politicisation of the same exercise. We have waited 18 long years for the delimitation exercise and we can definitely wait a few more years so that the delimitation exercise is carried out without any controversy based on the 2021 census figures.