Saturday, August 25, 2018

On Electoral Constituencies

"What are electoral constituencies?", asked my daughter today.

She had in her hand a copy of the Class IX Social Sciences textbook and seemed completely lost. The whole country seemed to be divided into consituencies - panchayat, assembly, Lok Sabha - and the term seemed to have overlapping meanings.

Overlap was the right word, I explained to her. We fished out a map from the net that showed all the 543 Lok Sabha parliamentary constituencies and 4120 state assembly constituencies, and then correlated it to the color-coded assembly constituencies. Each colored patch on the map showed that it had sent one member of parliament to the Lower House and each of them also sent 4-10 MLAs to the respective state assemblies.

Her cousins in Changanassery and Tiruvalla belonged to two separate parliamentary constituencies -  Mavelikkara and Pathanamthitta respectively - but the same electoral units also elected seven MLA each to the Kerala State assembly. Maps from ElectionsInIndia were particularly useful in getting the concept across.

543 Parliamentary Costituencies in India (Image source - Wikipedia Commons)

20 LS constituencies in Kerala (Image: ElectionsInIndia)

This discussion reminded me of an interaction, a few years ago, with a rather notorious MP from northern India. I was working as the Outreach Coordinator to Members of Parliament at the Centre for Policy Research , and had found myself at the home of this MP, responding to his request for inputs on the Nuclear Liability Bill.

This MPs' claim to fame was that he had one of the highest number of charge-sheeted cases in his name. In other words, he was one of the prominent thugs who had deftly gamed the electoral process, had muscled his way into the parliament. For a imposing figure with a piercing stare and an intimidating mien, he had turned out to be surprisingly sharp and genial. He already knew the Nuclear Liability Bill inside out and just wanted to sharpen his arguments with facts and figures, over a table laid out with tea and biscuits.

After our discussion he wanted to know where I was from, and the answer, 'Kerala', led him to his say something interesting. "Not many people understand", he said staring out of the window, "the pressures on an MP. People like me represent more than 3 million citizens, most of whom are illiterate, poor and volatile...It is only when I am seen participating in parliamentary debates that they feel I doing something useful".

The MP had a point. In the age of live TV and Social Media it is not easy to balance the local, ground-level expectations of those who elect you to power, with the broader, national-level perspective you are supposed to have while sitting in the parliament.


The Election Commission of India -

Elections in India -

Map showing all 543 parliamentary constituencies -