Over the past few years, the 2006 delimitation exercise that redrew the electoral map of Uttarakhand for the 2012 state elections has provoked major controversy. Tracking the shifting population of the state, the hills districts (Almora, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Champawat, Garhwal, Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag, Tehri Garhwal, Uttarkashi) lost six constituencies (from 40 to 34 seats) to the plains districts (Dehradun, Hardwar, Nainital, Udhamsingh Nagar) which together increased from 30 to 36 seats.
These losses would have been even deeper if the Delimitation Commission had not enacted order No. 282/UTA/2006 that took into account the population density differential between the hills and plains districts. Rather than a direct population to seat calculation, it fixed the average population per constituency for the hills at a lower level than that of the plains (109148 vs. 133404, an 18% adjustment), thus boosting the number of hill seats by 3, while substracting one each from Dehradun, Hardwar and Udhamsingh Nagar districts.
For many, this eclipse represents the demographic end of Uttarakhand as a distinct entity with a hill identity. For political leaders, it means zigzagging across the state in search of new constituencies, as we have seen in the weeks after the 2012 poll date was called. For Uttarakhand’s regional voices, it represents the threat of extinction, which is why parties like the UKD (P) have made it a major poll issue, despite having little recourse to the powerful writ of the Election Commission.
However, advocates for greater hill representation should at least be relieved that the Commission did not use the 2011 Census data. The more recent numbers would have, without adjustment, reduced the number of hill seats to a scant 27. And more somberly, despite the hills benefiting from a favourable seat distribution for the first 12 years of Uttarakhand’s existence (incidentally, a distribution based on figures that are 40 years old), the state has failed miserably to address the aspirations of hill residents.
As such, it might be true that the new delimitation does question the very reason for the creation of the separate state, but perhaps not in the way its critics might think. Given the state’s dismal record when the numerical supremacy of hill representatives was artificially guaranteed, it does not seem that representation at the state level has played much of a role in formulating policy favourable to the hills. This fact alone represents a major blow to the much ballyhooed notion that better political representation automatically translates into better outcomes. On the other hand, it may instead serve to spread the corruption of big money electoral politics down to the grassroots level, an unsurprising if unpleasant possibility.