Critique's Zone

Will India Vote on More Than 543 Seats in 2024?

The Parliament of India currently houses 788 Members of Parliament (MP). 543 representatives elected by the people to the Lok Sabha (Lower House) and 245 selected by the parties to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House).

The majestic building of the Parliament looking over the Raisina Hill has stood as a silent witness to story. The chambers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha saw legislations such as the Panchayati Raj Bill or the more contemporary J&K Reorganisation Bill, changing the course of history of the nation. The Central Hall of the Parliament is testament to framing of the Indian Constitution.

Designed by noted architects Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker on orders of the British government, the structure spans 560 feet in diameter and covers an area of 6 acres. The building that has been put to use since 1927, turns 100 years old in 2027. However, concerns have been brought to notice about the stability of the building.

In 2012, a proposal was submitted to the former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar to set up a committee to suggest viable alternative locations for a new Parliament building. Following up on it, a committee was set up to look into the issue in 2015. The other problem necessitating a new Parliament building is the inadequacy of space to house the members and their staff.

Urged by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to fasten the plan, the government floated a proposal for a structural overhaul of the Parliament House. With details not available, the roadmap proposed was sketchy.

However, a recent news report published in the Hindustan Times has shed light on it. The government of India plans to build a new Parliament House at a new location. The new building can accommodate upto 1350 MPs. Almost doubling the number of the parliamentarians in the country.

What does this mean for the electoral future of the country?

The rise in capacity of the number of MPs in the new Parliament building gives rise to certain speculations. At present, the citizens of the country vote to elect 543 parliamentarians. Will it stay the same tomorrow?

As the estimated deadline for the new Parliament is set for 2022, the 2024 general election might be a milestone in electoral history. An article in March 2019 in the Hindustan Times saw political scientists Milan Vaishnav and James Hintson comment that the Lok Sabha may require up to 848 seats by 2026 to uphold the spirit of proportional representation. Even former President Pranab Mukherjee made a case for increasing the number of seats in the Lower House. He proposed to double the seats in Lok Sabha to 1000 from the current strength of the house.

It is in this backdrop, the development of the new Parliament complex should be looked at. With larger number of MPs that can be seated in the house, are we looking at a new delimitation exercise? The last delimitation was carried out in the year 2002.

Before the Emergency was declared by the Indira Gandhi govt, a delimitation process was carried out the Delimitation Commission after every census. However, a freeze was put on it till 2001 during the Emergency. The process coming to a halt for 3 decades, skewed the ratio of people per constituency. It overburdened resources allocated to each constituency and did not help keep up with the growing population.

The process for the Census and NPR about to get underway in a few months. The latest figures of the census will be updated in 2021. To improve the governance structure for such a large population, carving out new constituencies to enable benefits of government schemes reach the people is a step in the right direction.

Thus, with a new Parliament House that can accommodate almost double the current number of MPs, and a continuously growing population with noises being made to increase the current strength of parliamentarians, the government might order a new delimitation exercise to increase the number of constituencies. And the delimitation exercise runs the risk of gerrymandering.

Though, the delimitation exercise is still in the realm of speculation, there are enough signs that show that 2024 will be an election the likes of which India has never seen.

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