Delimiting the Divide

Far from being an exercise in updating democracy, the proposed delimitation of Manipur’s 60 assembly constituencies is beginning to show the effect that was expected of it in the first place: that of further dividing the state’s two main communities, the Manipuris and the Nagas, who have for long been ethnically polarised. The situation has only been worsened by the fact that the 2001 census, which is to be treated as the base for the delimitation, shows abnormal differences in the growth of population in the state’s valley and hill districts, the latter traditionally being the stronghold of the Naga community.

Not surprisingly, while most political parties, including the coalition partners of the ruling Congress-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF), have opposed any realignment of constituencies, influential Naga bodies have welcomed the delimitation, with the United Naga Council of Manipur (UNC) warning that opposing the delimitation would greatly hamper the “integrity aspiration of the people”.

”Seat allocation should be proportionate to the population in an assembly constituency in both the hills and valley districts,” the UNC recently said in a statement. On the ground, that would mean Senapati, Chandel and Ukhrul, three of the state’s five hill districts, gaining five assembly seatsat the cost of three valley districts Imphal West, Bishnupur and Thoubal that would lose five.

The commission has instructed that the task be completed before October next year. However, while that may be so, political parities opposed to the delimitation point out that there are serious differences in the growth of population in the hill and valley districts. Senapati, for example, shows an increase from 2,08,405 in 1991 to 3,79,214 in the 2001 census (up by 81.96 per cent), while Ukhrul has risen from 1,09,295 to 1,40,946 (28.95 per cent). Chandel, for its part, has recorded a population increase of 72.80 per cent (from 71,014 to 1,22,714).

“The 2001 census needs to be reviewed thoroughly to check the artificial growth,” said Khaidem Mani, member of the steering committee of the SPF coalition. “Such increases are unreasonable.” As opposed to the quantum leap that the population seems to have taken in the hill districts, the valley districts of the state have shown only marginal increases of 13.9 per cent, 14.52 per cent, 16.68 per cent and 19.16 per cent in Bishnupur, Thoubal, Imphal West and Imphal East respectively. The steering committee of the SPF has now appealed to the Registrar General of India (Census Operations) and the Directorate of Census Operations, Manipur to work out a fresh report, said Mani. The state’s BJP unit too has denounced the delimitation on the same ground, pointing out additionally, that the present reservation quota of 32 per cent would automatically shoot up to 40 per cent if it is to be accepted in the present circumstances.

For a state that has in recent years been torn apart by strife sparked off by the Nagalim issue--one that envisions the bringing together of all Naga-dominated areas under one administrative unit--the proposed delimitation could, by all accounts, set the stage for a fresh round of ethnic tension in Manipur.

Sobhapati Samom (